After Five Days of Riots, Egyptians Seek to Provide Their Own Protection

Egypt police withdraw from the streets, government buildings set ablaze, escaped convicts run free and rumors rife with reports of at least 60 rape cases during the unrest.

Egyptians armed with sticks and razors have formed vigilante groups to defend their homes from looters as police disappeared from the streets on Saturday, after days of violent protests that have left dozens of Egyptians dead.

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Egypt protests

Rumors were rife with reports of escaped convicts running through the streets. State television reported at least 60 rape cases during the unrest. It also reported that the country's cancer hospital for children had been stormed.

Banks, junctions and important buildings previously guarded by the police and state security were left abandoned on Saturday night and civilians have quickly stepped in to fill the void.

Police withdrew from the streets when the army was sent in to take over security in Cairo. Witnesses have since seen mobs storming supermarkets, commercial centers, banks, private property and government buildings in Cairo and elsewhere.

Egyptians have called for army intervention to bring back law and order. On Saturday, many protesters chanted: "No to plundering and no to destruction."

"They are torching down the prisons. Our lives and property are at risk. Get out of the way," one shopper shouted, echoing the anxieties of many as they raced to stock up at supermarkets.

Others stayed penned inside their homes for fear of what they said were marauding gangs in some areas.

Gated communities have grown up in recent years in the desert outskirts of Cairo, often grouping expensive villas with open green spaces. Many, like Mohandiseen, are near slums.

"Mohandiseen is surrounded by several shantytowns whose residents have taken advantage of the security vacuum there and started looting private property and shops," said Mohyi Mahmoud, a shop-owner in Mohandiseen.

Ghadeer said: "The looters want to plunder and the government is washing its hands clean of any responsibility."

Dozens of shops across Egypt have painted display windows white to hide contents and discourage looting. A cash machine was broken in an upscale neighborhood, witnesses said.

"They are letting Egypt burn to the ground," said shop owner Inas Shafik, 35.

Several government buildings were set ablaze during days of protests against President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. They were often left to burn without the intervention of authorities.

Protesters set fire to the Egyptian Tax Authority headquarters, an office tower near the
Interior Ministry and other government buildings in Central Cairo, a Reuters witness said. Flames could be seen from several blocks away and smoke was billowing out of the building.

Islamic leaders have in the meantime called on people to join vigilante groups to protect their homes themselves. Yet, scenes of looting appeared to spread from upscale parts of Cairo to downtown and poorer areas as well.

Looters broke into the Cairo museum housing the world's greatest collection of Pharaonic treasures, smashing several statues and damaging two mummies, while police battled anti-government protesters on the streets.

The museum is adjacent to the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party that protesters torched and earlier set ablaze in protests demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. Some was still rising from the building on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, Britain, France and Germany urged Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday to refrain from violence against unarmed protesters and work to create conditions for free and fair elections.

"We call on President Mubarak to renounce any violence against unarmed civilians and to recognise the demonstrators' peaceful rights," the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said in a German-language statement released in Berlin.

"We call on President Mubarak to begin a transformation process that should be reflected in a broadly-based government, as well as free and fair elections."