Egyptian security officials reported Wednesday that a total of 860 protesters have been arrested since anti-government protests broke out Tuesday.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians have turned out for the largest demonstrations Egypt has seen in years, inspired by the recent uprising in Tunisia. They demanded President Hosni Mubarak's ouster and a solution to grinding poverty, rising prices and high unemployment.
Egyptian anti-government activists continued to clash with police for a second day Wednesday in defiance of an official ban on any protests. Beefed up police forces on the streets quickly moved in and used tear gas and beatings to disperse any demonstrations.
After nightfall Wednesday, more than 2,000 demonstrators were marching on a major downtown boulevard along the Nile when dozens of riot police with helmets and shields charged the crowd. It was a scene repeated throughout the day wherever demonstrators tried to gather.
They were the latest in outbursts of political discontent in Egypt that have been growing more frequent and more intense over the past year. Protests have erupted sporadically over police brutality, poverty and food prices, government corruption and mismanagement, and more recently sectarian strife between Christians and Muslims. Parliamentary elections in November were widely decried as fraudulent.
Many in Egypt see these events as signs of the authoritarian president's vulnerability in an election year. There is speculation that 82-year-old Mubarak, who has been in power for nearly 30 years and recently experienced serious health problems, may be setting his son Gamal up for hereditary succession.
But there is considerable public opposition and, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic memos, it does not meet with the approval of the powerful military. And the regime's tight hold on power has made it virtually impossible for any serious alternative to Mubarak to emerge.
The crackdown by authorities brought harsh words from European leaders, who expressed concern and said the events underline the need for democratization and respect for human and civil rights.
However, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton did not criticize Egypt's government - a key U.S. ally in the Middle East - but only said the country was stable and Egyptians have the right to protest while urging all parties to avoid violence.
Activists used social networking sites to call for fresh demonstrations Wednesday. But Facebook, a key tool used to organize protests, appeared to be at least partially blocked in the afternoon. On Tuesday, Twitter and cellphones appeared to be sporadically blocked as well.
The Interior Ministry warned Wednesday that police would not tolerate any gatherings, and thousands were out on the streets poised to crack down quickly on any new signs of unrest after clashes on Tuesday that killed three demonstrators and one police officer.
Early Wednesday, thousands of policemen in riot gear and backed by armored vehicles took up posts in Cairo on bridges across the Nile, at major intersections and squares as well as outside key installations such as the state TV building and the headquarters of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.
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