Egypt’s military has deployed on the streets of Cairo to enforce a night-time curfew as the sun set on a day of rioting and violent chaos that was a major escalation in the challenge to authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Thousands in the capital still defied a nationwide curfew and were trying to storm two major government buildings – the state TV headquarters and the Foreign Ministry – while others were praying on the streets after nightfall.
Flames rose up across a number of cities from burning tyres and police cars, and even the ruling party headquarters in Cairo was ablaze in the outpouring of rage, bitterness and utter frustration with a regime seen as corrupt, heavy handed and neglectful of grinding poverty that afflicts nearly half of the 80 million Egyptians.
Hundreds were looting television sets and electric fans from the burning complex of buildings used by the ruling party.
One protester was killed in demonstrations that stretched across nearly half the provinces in Egypt, bringing the death toll for four days of protests to eight.
“I can’t believe our own police, our own government would keep beating up on us like this,” said Cairo protester Ahmad Salah, 26. “I’ve been here for hours and gassed and keep going forward, and they keep gassing us, and I will keep going forward. This is a cowardly government and it has to fall. We’re going to make sure of it.”
Internet and mobile phone services, at least in Cairo, appeared to be largely cut off since overnight in the most extreme measure so far to try to hamper protesters form organising. However, that did not prevent tens of thousands from flooding the streets, emboldened by the recent uprising in Tunisia – another North African Arab nation.
Even Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the country’s leading pro-democracy advocates, was under house arrest after joining the protests.
“It’s time for this government to change,” said Amal Ahmed, a 22-year-old protester. “I want a better future for me and my family when I get married.”
Egypt’s national carrier later suspended its flights from Cairo for 12 hours. The company said its flights from abroad will be able to land, but departures were cancelled.