Egypt protests: Hosni Mubarak under world pressure

Jeremy Bowen reports on a day of fear and anger on Cairo's streets

Leaders from the US, UK, France and Germany have urged Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak to avoid violence and enact reforms as protests continue.

Latest reports from the capital Cairo say protesters have again been gathering in the city centre.

As an overnight curfew ended in the city, residents dismantled barricades set up to deter looters.

Banks, the stock exchange and schools are expected to remain closed.

Thousands of prisoners are reported to have escaped from jails overnight, security officials say.

Meanwhile the authorities have ordered the closure of Arabic TV station al-Jazeera in Egypt, without giving a reason.

Mr Mubarak has appointed a vice-president as he struggles to regain control after five days of protests.

US President Barack Obama met national security officials on Saturday to discuss the situation in Egypt.

Analysis

In spite of the turmoil, one or two things are becoming clearer here. It looks pretty likely that President Mubarak and his military leaders have been told in no uncertain fashion by the Americans that the Tiananmen Square option, by which the authorities restore order by shooting the protesters down by the hundred, is simply not acceptable.

Mr Mubarak's only hope, therefore, is to form a government which the demonstrators might accept, hard though that is to imagine. He's now appointed a new prime minister and a new vice-president - Omar Suleiman, the head of military intelligence.

Mr Suleiman isn't just a secret policeman: he's also an experienced diplomatic negotiator, respected in the West. But tonight, the crowds have been chanting slogans against him as well.

If the new government can't calm the anger in the streets, it's hard to see how President Mubarak can stay in power. Hard, too, to think that the Americans, who keep Egypt afloat with their money, would want him to.

Omar Suleiman, the new vice-president, once saved President Mubarak's life in an assassination attempt. Saving him a second time may prove more of a problem.

Afterwards, the White House said it would continue to focus on "calling for restraint, supporting universal rights and supporting concrete steps that advance political reform."

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.

Protests continue

Despite a nominal curfew, some protesters remained in Cairo's central Tahrir (Liberation) Square overnight. Troops and armoured vehicles have been deployed but have not taken any action.

But clashes between the protesters and the riot police are believed to have left about 100 people dead since rallies began on Tuesday. About 2,000 people have been injured.

On Saturday, President Mubarak named intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as the first ever vice-president in his 30-year rule.

Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq was appointed prime minister.

In many neighbourhoods, residents have formed committees to protect their properties from looting.

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

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.

Mobile phone services and internet access were partially restored in Cairo on Saturday.

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.

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.

Egypt flashpoints

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