Mubarak sends in army, resists demands to quit

CAIRO, (Reuters) – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak  refused last night to bow to demands that he resign after  ordering troops and tanks into cities in an attempt to quell an  explosion of street protests against his 30-year rule.

Demonstrators were still out in the streets in the early  hours of this morning, as were looters. Parts of Cairo  looked like a war zone, filled with smoke, rubble and the  choking smell of tear gas. Mubarak dismissed his government and called for national  dialogue to avert chaos after a day of battles between police  and protesters angry over poverty and autocratic rule. Medical  sources said at least 24 people had been killed and over a  thousand injured in clashes in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria.

Smoke billows over Cairo following clashes between protesters and police January 28, 2011. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

“It is not by setting fire and by attacking private and  public property that we achieve the aspirations of Egypt and its  sons, but they will be achieved through dialogue, awareness and  effort,” he said in a televised address, his first public  appearance since the protests began four days ago. The unprecedented unrest has sent shock waves through the  Middle East, where other autocratic rulers may face challenges,  and unsettled global financial markets on Friday. U.S. President  Barack Obama said he had spoken with Mubarak and urged “concrete  steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people”.

The army, deployed for the first time in the crisis, cleared  Cairo’s Tahrir square towards midnight. Shortly after Mubarak’s  speech, protesters returned in their hundreds, defying a curfew.  They said sacking the cabinet was far from enough.

Protesters stand near the burning headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party in Cairo January 28, 2011. REUTERS/Asma Waguih

“It was never about the government, by God. It is you  (Mubarak) who has to go! What you have done to the people is  enough!” said one protester.  Shots were heard in the evening near parliament and the  headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party was in  flames, the blaze lighting up the night sky. Cars were set  alight and police posts torched.

A Reuters team saw a gang of looters storm into a bank and  carry out the safe.
More than half of the dead in yesterday’s clashes were reported  in Suez, the eastern city which has been ground zero for the  most violent protests over the past four days.

A demonstrator stands in front of police water canons during a protest in Cairo January 28, 2011. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

Mubarak, 82, has been a close ally of Washington and  beneficiary of U.S. aid for decades, justifying his autocratic  rule in part by citing a danger of Islamist militancy. The  Muslim Brotherhood opposition, however, appears to have played  little role in the unrest.

The protests were triggered by the overthrow two weeks ago  of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Al Ben Ali. Street  protests in Tunis focused on similar issues of poverty and  political repression. Demonstrations have also flared in Yemen,  Algeria, Sudan and Jordan in recent weeks. “There will be new steps towards democracy and freedoms and  new steps to face unemployment and increase the standard of  living and services, and there will be new steps to help the  poor and those with limited income,” Mubarak said.

Egyptian army soldiers are greeted by protesters in Cairo January 28, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

“There is a fine line between freedom and chaos and I lean  towards freedom for the people in expressing their opinions as  much as I hold on to the need to maintain Egypt’s safety and  stability,” he added.

Obama also called on the Egyptian government to halt  interference in access to the Internet, mobile phone service and  Internet social networks that have been used by protesters.

“I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian  authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful  protesters,” he said.
Anthony Skinner, Associate Director of political risk  consultancy Maplecroft, said Mubarak’s conduct was reminiscent  of that of Ben Ali in his final days in power.

“Mubarak is showing he is still there for now and he is  trying to deflect some of the force of the process away from  himself by sacking the Cabinet.
“We will have to see how people react but I don’t think it  will be enough at all. I wouldn’t want to put a number on his  chances of survival — we really are in uncharted territory.”

Markets were hit by the uncertainty. U.S. stocks suffered  their biggest one-day loss in nearly six months, crude oil  prices surged and the dollar and U.S. Treasury debt gained as  investors looked to safe havens.

“I think the next two to three weeks, the crisis in Egypt  and potentially across the Middle East, might be an excuse for a  big selloff of 5 to 10 percent,” said Keith Wirtz, president and  chief investment officer at Fifth Third Asset Management in  Cincinnati, Ohio.

Many protesters are young men and women. Two thirds of  Egypt’s 80 million people are below 30 and many have no jobs.  About 40 percent of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day.

Elections were due to be held in September and until now few  had doubted that Mubarak would remain in control or bring in a  successor in the shape of his 47-year-old son Gamal.

Father and son deny that Gamal is being groomed for the job.

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