Mon, Jan 31, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Egypt in crisis, Mubarak meets commanders

Reuters and AP, CAIRO and BAGHDAD

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, clinging to power despite unprecedented demands for an end to his 30-year rule, met yesterday with the powerful military that is widely seen as holding the key to Egypt’s future.

Mubarak held talks with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, whose appointment on Saturday has possibly set the scene for a transition in power, Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, chief-of-staff Sami al-Anan and other senior commanders.

An earthquake of unrest is shaking Mubarak’s grip on power and the high command’s support is vital as other pillars of his ruling apparatus crumble, analysts said.

Egyptians faced lawlessness on their streets yesterday with security forces and ordinary people trying to stop looters after five days of popular protest.

Through the night, Cairo residents armed with clubs, chains and knives formed vigilante groups to guard neighborhoods from marauders after the unpopular police force withdrew following clashes with protesters that left more than 100 dead.

Cairo’s streets were mostly deserted, with the army guarding the interior ministry, and citizens putting their trust in the military, hoping they would restore order but not open fire to keep key US ally Mubarak, 82, in power.

Amid a heavy military presence, nearly 4,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square, which has become a rallying point to express anger at poverty, repression and corruption in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

“Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, both of you are agents of the Americans,” shouted protesters, referring to the appointment of intelligence chief Suleiman as vice president, the first time Mubarak has appointed a deputy in 30 years of office.

Sunday is normally a working day in Egypt, but banks and financial markets were shut. The bourse and the central bank said they would stay closed today.

Meanwhile, 34 members of Islamist opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, including seven of its leaders, walked out of prison after relatives of prisoners overcame the guards, a Brotherhood official said.

The relatives stormed the prison in Wadi el-Natroun, 120km northwest of Cairo, and set free several thousand of the inmates, Brotherhood office manager Mohamed Osama told reporters. No one was hurt, he added.

Opposition forces also agreed yesterday to support former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei to negotiate with the government, a leading member of the Brotherhood said

The tumult was affecting Egypt’s tourist industry and the US, Turkey and Iraq said they were offering evacuation flights for citizens anxious to leave. Other governments advised their citizens to leave Egypt or to avoid traveling there.

Egypt said it had shut down the operations of satellite broadcaster al-Jazeera, which has shown footage of the demonstrations taking place in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria and heavy-handed police tactics to the rest of the Arab world.

In Cairo, the biggest immediate fear was of looting as public order collapsed. Mobs stormed banks, supermarkets, jewelry shops and government offices. Some suggested the chaos could herald a security forces crackdown.

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