Middle East

Egypt protests: Mubarak names Omar Suleiman as VP

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has named intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his first ever vice-president as he struggles to regain control of the country.

Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq has also been appointed as prime minister.

Tens of thousands of protesters defied the curfew to remain on the streets, despite army warnings.

There have been clashes in Alexandria, Cairo and Ismailiya. At least 74 people have been killed in the last two days.

In Cairo, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in clashes with protesters at the interior ministry, but the army did not intervene. Injuries have been reported.

Cairo, Alexandria and Suez are under an extended curfew from 1600 to 0800 (1400-0600 GMT).

'Reform and restraint'

US President Barack Obama met his national security team for an hour on Saturday to discuss the situation in Egypt.

Mr Obama is stressing the need for Mr Mubarak to enact reforms and show restraint, the White House said.

There was a similar call from the leaders of Britain, Germany and France.

"We call on President Mubarak to avoid at all costs the use of violence against unarmed civilians, and on the demonstrators to exercise their rights peacefully," said Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy in a joint statement.

Cairo's central Tahrir (Liberation) Square has remained filled with protesters into the night. Troops and armoured vehicles have been deployed but have not taken any action.

A BBC Arabic correspondent at the scene reported a friendly atmosphere between the army and the demonstrators.

But clashes between the protesters and the riot police have left at least 74 people dead since rallies began on Tuesday. About 2,000 people have been injured.

"Live bullets have been fired at protesters, aimed at their heads," Dr Yaser Sayyed at the Sayyed Galal Hospital in Cairo told BBC Arabic.

"We have seen more than 20 cases of headshots with the bullet wounds on the front of the head and exit wounds on the other side, skulls fractured... in addition to chest wounds."

The army advised people to obey the curfew and avoid gathering in groups.

Looters rampaged through a number of upper-class neighbourhoods in Cairo, while in Alexandria there were reports of widespread looting of supermarket chains.

Some residents have formed committees to protect their homes and buildings.

The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Cairo says she has seen one local defence committee arming itself with hockey sticks, a metal exercise bar and a table leg.

Despite an impromptu guard made up of volunteers, at least two looters managed to get into Cairo's museum of antiquities, damaging some of the exhibits.

"They were able, these two people to enter the Cairo museum from the [roof] and they destroyed two mummies and they opened one case," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Egyptian-born cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has said Mr Mubarak must stand down.

"I advise President Mubarak to leave his position and to leave Egypt," the influential cleric said. "There is no other solution to this problem but for [Mr] Mubarak to go."

'Reluctant to fire'

Hundreds of foreign tourists and Egyptian nationals are at Cairo's main airport seeking flights out of the country.

The UK has advised against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez.

The US has issued warnings to its nationals to cancel non-essential travel to Egypt. A number of European countries have also advised against visiting the country.

In Abu Za'abal prison in Cairo, a political prisoner told the BBC that 120 inmates took control of one sector of the jail.

Speaking by mobile phone, Mohamed Mahmud Sami - who has been in prison for 17 years - said: "Security forces are trying to storm in, but we can see that the soldiers are reluctant to fire at us, as if they want to side with the rebelling people of Egypt."

Cairo stock exchange will be closed on Sunday - a full trading day in the Middle East - because of the turmoil in the city.

After a day of violent protests on Friday, President Mubarak appeared on state TV to announce he was sacking his government. The cabinet has now formally resigned.

Mobile phone services have been restored in Cairo, but the internet remains down.

In Suez, soldiers were on the streets after the city's police fled following Friday's violence in which the main police station was burned down.

And a BBC Arabic producer reported that prison inmates rioted in the city of Manufiya, north-west of Cairo.

US President Barack Obama spoke to Mr Mubarak on Friday and urged him to uphold promises of reform. The US will review its aid of $1.5bn (£1.1bn) to Egypt based on events in the coming days.

The unrest in Egypt follows an uprising in Tunisia two weeks ago which toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

The Tunisian upheaval began with anger over rising food prices, high unemployment and anger at official corruption - problems which have also left many people in Egypt feeling frustrated and resentful of their leadership.

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