Turmoil in Egypt: Anti-Mubarak riots enter third day
Contradictory reports put death toll at either four or six, at least 860 protesters arrested; prominent reformer Mohammed ElBaradei to return to Egypt on Thursday.
Activists trying to oust Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak played cat-and-mouse with police on the streets into the early hours of Thursday, as unprecedented protests against his 30-year rule entered a third day.
Four people were killed in the clashes on Tuesday. An Egyptian security official said that an additional two deaths in Cairo late on Wednesday were caused by a car crash and not by clashes between protesters and police,contradicting comments made earlier by another security source.
The protests, inspired by a popular revolt in Tunisia and unprecedented during Mubarak's strong-handed rule, have seen police fire rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators throwing rocks and petrol bombs.
In central Cairo on Wednesday demonstrators burned tires and hurled stones at police. In Suez, protesters torched a government building.
Demonstrations continued well into the night. By the early hours of Thursday, smaller groups of protesters were still assembling in both cities and being chased off by police.
Prominent reform campaigner Mohammed ElBaradei, who lives in Vienna, will return to Egypt on Thursday, his brother said. Baradei, formerly head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog authority, is a vocal advocate of political change.
Protesters are promising to hold the biggest demonstrations yet on Friday after weekly prayers.
"Egypt's Muslims and Christians will go out to fight against corruption, unemployment and oppression and absence of freedom," wrote an activist on a Facebook page.
Protesters say they have seen demonstrators dragged away, beaten and shoved into police vans. The Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that 500 had been arrested. An independent coalition of lawyers said at least 1,200 were detained.
Sometimes police have scrambled to find the means to respond to the protests. In one spot in central Cairo, angry policemen rammed sticks into pavements to break up pieces of concrete for use as projectiles to hurl at protesters.
Protesters have constantly regrouped, using Facebook and Twitter to galvanize and coordinate the biggest anti-government rallies of Mubarak's 30 years in power.
Calls for another big protest on Friday gathered 24,000 Facebook supporters within hours of being posted.
Web activists seem to have acted largely independently of more organized opposition movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, widely seen as having Egypt's biggest grassroots network with its social and charity projects.
"Participation has no religious direction, it is an Egyptian movement," wrote an activist about Friday's planned protest.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Egyptian government to allow peaceful protests and not to block the social networking sites.
Like Tunisians, Egyptians complain about surging prices, a lack of jobs and authoritarian rulers who have relied on heavy-handed security to keep dissenting voices quiet.
After decades in which Mubarak's rule has never been seriously challenged, Egypt's large, youthful population has grown increasingly restive and bolder in demanding change.
"The people want the regime to fall," protesters chanted.
Egypt's population of some 80 million is growing by 2 percent a year. Two thirds of the population is under 30, and that age group accounts for 90 percent of the jobless. About 40 percent live on less than $2 a day, and a third is illiterate.
Tunisians have offered their own tips to their fellow Arabs. "May God be with you Egyptians," wrote one activist on Facebook, explaining how to deal with teargas or how best to evade arrest.
The protests in Egypt, one of the closest Middle East allies of the United States, follow the overthrow two weeks ago of another long-serving Arab strongman, Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in a popular revolt.
Analysts said the United States probably wants to avoid adding to political uncertainty by abandoning Mubarak. Egypt's peaceful relationship with Israel is a bulwark of stability in the unsettled region.
A presidential election is due in September. Egyptians assume that the 82-year-old Mubarak plans either to remain in control or hand power to his son Gamal, 47. Father and son both deny that Gamal is being groomed for the job.
Egyptians blame Gamal and his cabinet allies for introducing economic liberalization measures that have only helped the rich. Investors see it differently, and have piled into Egypt for a slice of the country's 6 percent annual growth.
The unrest has rattled markets, sending stock prices tumbling and driving the Egyptian pound to a six-year low against the U.S. dollar. The cost of insuring Egyptian debt against default rose.
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