Thursday, January 27, 2011

Yemenis demand change in government

Tens of thousands of Yemenis demanded the president step down in nationwide protests Thursday, taking inspiration from the popular revolt in Tunisia and vowing to continue until their U.S.-backed government falls.
Yemen is the latest Arab state to be hit by mass anti-government protests, joining Tunisia and Egypt in calls for revolutionary change. The demonstrations pose a new threat to the stability of Yemen, the Arab world's most impoverished nation, which has become a haven for al-Qaida militants.
"No delays, no delays, the time for departure has come!" shouted protesters, calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for nearly 32 years. Saleh's government is riddled with corruption, has little control outside the capital, and its main source of income — oil — could run dry in a decade.
The protesters were led by opposition members and youth activists in four parts of the capital, Sanaa. In the southern provinces of Dali and Shabwa, riot police used batons to disperse people, while thousands took to the streets in al-Hudaydah province, an al-Qaida stronghold along the Red Sea coast.
In the southern port city of Aden, a 28-year-old unemployed man set himself on fire to protest the economic troubles in the country. The man, identified as Fouad Sabri, was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, medical officials said. The act is the latest in a wave of attempts at self-immolation across the Arab world, which appear to be inspired by events in Tunisia.
A few hundred pro-government supporters held a counter-protest in Sanaa, but they were greatly outnumbered. There were no immediate reports of violence or major unrest in the capital.
The protests calmed by early evening, but organizers said there was more to come Friday.
"We are pleased to announce that no major clashes or arrests occurred, and the police presence was minimal," said Mohammed Al-Basha, a spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington. "The government of the Republic of Yemen strongly respects the democratic right for a peaceful assembly."Saleh has tried to defuse simmering tensions by raising salaries for the army and by denying opponents' claims he plans to install his son as his successor.
After the Tunisian revolt, which forced that country's president to flee into exile, Saleh ordered income taxes slashed in half and instructed his government to control prices. He deployed anti-riot police and soldiers to several key areas in the capital and its surroundings to prevent riots.
That hasn't stopped critics of his rule from taking to the streets in days of protests calling for Saleh to step down, a red line that few dissenters had previously dared to cross.
"We will not accept anything less than the president leaving," said independent parliamentarian Ahmed Hashid. "We'll only be happy when we hear the words 'I understand you' from the president," invoking a statement issued by Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali before he fled the country.
Nearly half of Yemen's population lives below the poverty line of $2 a day and doesn't have access to proper sanitation. Less than a tenth of the roads are paved. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes by conflict, flooding the cities.
The country is enduring a rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.
Saleh's current term in office expires in 2013 but proposed amendments to the constitution could let him remain in power for two additional terms of ten years.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Yemen to step up security cooperation with the United States during an unannounced visit this month.
Following the Obama administration's pattern in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Clinton also emphasized that the United States wanted a broader relationship with Yemen beyond the fight against violent extremists. Clinton was the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Yemen in two decades.
Radicals have used the country as a base for launching attacks on the U.S. The radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, thought to be hiding in Yemen, is suspected of having inspired some of those attacks.
Clinton said the U.S. supports efforts to address the underlying causes of extremism: poverty, corruption, social inequality and political divisions that have boiled into an insurgency. She said Yemen must stop the practice of child marriage and enact reforms.
In the past five years, U.S. military assistance to Yemen has totaled about $250 million. In 2010, military and civilian aid was almost evenly split and combined for about $300 million.
Military aid to Yemen would reach $250 million in 2011 alone, U.S. officials said, and Clinton said there will be additional development aid.
Yemen has been the site of numerous anti-U.S. attacks dating back to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbor, which killed 17 American sailors
Last month, several CIA operatives were the targets of a failed bombing at a restaurant in a Sanaa suburb, and Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was thought to be behind the attempted bombing of an American airliner landing in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
Al-Awlaki is thought also to have inspired the deadly 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. The al-Qaida group's fighters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa twice in 2008.
With the help of U.S. money and training by elite U.S. commandos, Yemen is setting up provincial anti-terrorism units to confront al-Qaida in its heartland.

Protests in Egypt...The scent of jasmine spreads

TUNISIA has a mere 10m-plus people and Egypt around 84m. But as the yearning for democracy stirs in the Arab world, a wave set off in tiny Tunisia, travelling east through the Maghreb, is now rocking giant Egypt. The past few days have seen angry demonstrations in at least a score of Egyptian towns. Some 30,000 people have jammed Cairo’s most famous square. Such astonishing events, in the heart of the Arab world’s most populous country, have not been witnessed in the 30 years since Hosni Mubarak, its ailing 82-year-old dictator, took power.

First Tunisia, next Egypt? The scent of the jasmine revolution, as Tunisians are calling their national upheaval, has certainly spread. Satellite television, mobile telephones, the internet and Twitter continue to relay the giddy news across the Maghreb, along the Mediterranean’s southern coast, and on even through Saudi Arabia to the Gulf and Yemen. Plainly, the dictators are nervous. But that does not mean that they are about to fall like dominoes.

No one can be sure even how events in Tunisia will unfold. The country has a long way to go before calm can resume or a stable new order emerge. A unity government could take the country along an evolutionary path towards democracy, pluralism and tolerance. Or more radical elements, so far secular rather than Islamist, could drive it in a harsher direction, ridding it of every vestige of the old regime, including those of its number in the fragile new government (see article). Or the army might step in. The hope is that, with its educated people and its moderation, Tunisia could yet provide a hopeful beacon for Arabs looking for democracy.

But Egypt would be a far bigger prize. It is the most populous country in the Arab world, Cairo its biggest city. Egypt is a strategic pivot. America sees it as a vital ally in the war against international jihadism and in the search for peace between Arabs and Jews. Its 32-year-old peace treaty with Israel remains the main bulwark against a wider war between the Jewish state and the Arab world. Egypt’s leading Muslim institutions are generally a force for moderation.

Yet the country is also often considered a powder keg. Nearly half of its people live on less than $2 a day. Most of them are under 30. The mood is often resentful and sour. The ruling party is arrogant, nepotistic and corrupt. It allows other parties to exist only provided they do not pose a real threat. The press is afforded a measure of freedom, as a safety-valve, but is quickly choked off if it steps out of line. A general election late last year was blatantly rigged, even by the low standards of the past. Open politics is paralysed. Mr Mubarak’s son Gamal is often tipped as the old man’s successor.

The main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, lost all its seats in parliament in the general election. Hundreds of its members are in prison, detained under widely abused emergency laws that have been in force for more than 40 years. In the recent turmoil in the streets, the Brothers kept a noticeably low profile, perhaps waiting to see how things would unfold. If there were fair elections, they would probably do well, perhaps even win. Yet many secular-minded, democratic and liberal Egyptians feel queasy about letting the Brotherhood have its head, fearing that if it won power at the ballot box it would never let it go. Others worry that the Brothers would rescind the peace treaty with Israel. The fiercer of the Palestinian movements, Hamas, is an offshoot of the Brotherhood.

Jump before you are pushed

Mr Mubarak, like the rest of the Arab world’s autocrats, will be pondering the despot’s eternal dilemma. Is it better to loosen controls in order to satisfy their people with a whiff of freedom, or to tighten them in an effort to ensure their docility?

The fate of Tunisia’s strongman, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, suggests that an angry people will be satisfied with neither. If Mr Mubarak truly put his country’s interests first, he would immediately promise to retire before the next presidential election, due in September. At the very least he would ensure that the contest is a genuinely open one, not another farce.

The latest unrest may yet die down. The security services and police may manage to contain it. But it is sure to bubble up again before too long. And one day the powder keg may explode. In the long run, the real question for Mr Mubarak is whether he wants to leave his country with a chance of peaceful change, or to leave it ablaze.

Egypt Internet Goes Down, According To Reports

Reports are emerging that Internet has gone down in Cairo and perhaps throughout Egypt, only hours before the largest planned protests yet.

According to a report from The Arabist, "Egypt has shut off the internet."

Multiple Internet Service Providers are affected according to the report, which states:

I just received a call from a friend in Cairo (I won't say who it is now because he's a prominent activist) telling me neither his DSL nor his USB internet service is working. I've just checked with two other friends in different parts of Cairo and their internet is not working either.
The news of the Internet outage came minutes after the Associated Press published a video of an Egyptian protestor being shot.

CNN reporter Ben Wedeman confirmed Internet is down in Cairo and writes, "No internet, no SMS, what is next? Mobile phones and land lines? So much for stability. #Jan25 #Egypt"

The Los Angeles Times is also reporting that BlackBerry Internet has been taken offline in Egypt.

UPDATE (7:05 p.m. ET) Reuters confirms "major network disruptions" for Egypt Internet users at this time, with reports in Cairo that there is no Internet altogether. A top state official declined to comment.

Egyptian Protester Shot

Egyptian Protests Expected After Friday Prayers

A university professor told VOA Egyptian demonstrators have vowed to continue their nationwide protests to press home their demands for political and social reforms after Muslim prayers Friday.
Howayda Mostafa, professor of mass communication at the University of Cairo, said social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter continue to play a crucial role in the organization and effectiveness of what she described as non-partisan, but youthful protests demanding reforms.
“Since yesterday (Thursday), all the websites say that, after the prayers, there would be demonstrations everywhere. So, everyone knows that, after the prayers, many of the people will go outside to demonstrate to continue (what has been) happening two days ago,” said Mostafa.
“It is the first time we have many manifestations, but it wasn’t like what we saw two days ago because of the numbers. The demonstrators are from many categories of Egyptian people, not a category which we (usually) expect every time. They demonstrate because this time it wasn’t one political force. But, most of them are young people from different economic and social (backgrounds).”
Mostafa said President Mubarak’s government is yet to officially respond to the Tunisian-inspired protests.
Egyptian police and protesters clashed Thursday in two eastern cities in the third straight day of anti-government demonstrations.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in Suez, Thursday. Protesters in the city set a government building and police post on fire late Wednesday. Others attempted to firebomb the ruling National Democratic Party's local headquarters before police pushed them back with teargas. At least 55 people were hurt in the clashes. Also, hundreds of protesters clashed with police in the city of Ismailia.
Mostafa said President Mubarak’s government seems surprised by the sudden protests demanding he cede power and institute reforms.
“I think the regime was not expecting these demonstrations because (they) are different. It is not only the opposition that are demonstrating, but other people from many categories. Many political forces benefit from the climate of this demonstration. The regime wasn’t expecting this amount of people,” Mostafa said.
Meanwhile, Nobel Laureate and reform campaigner Mohamed El Baradei returned to the country Thursday from Austria. He told a small group of supporters who greeted him at the airport that it is what he called a "critical time in the life of Egypt.”
“I think he (El Baradei) will benefit from this organization of people. But, I think El Baradei has lost some of his popularity and some of his credibility. Even the opposition forces who support El Baradei now are not like before, maybe because he is always abroad, he didn’t continue his support for change. But, we heard that he will participate today (Friday) in this demonstration,” said Mostafa.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the United States is urging Egypt's government and protesters to exercise restraint.

Egypt arrests 1000 people

CAIRO — At least 1,000 people have been detained in Egypt since Tuesday, in the most serious protests of President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-rule, a security official said on Thursday, as activists vowed to continue rallying.

"At least 1,000 people have been detained around the country since the demonstrations started," on Tuesday, the official told AFP.
Security was out in force in downtown Cairo after two days of unprecedented anti-government protests left six dead and scores injured.
The pro-democracy April 6 Movement, the driving force behind the rallies, has called on Egyptians to keep going.
Thursday "will not be a holiday... street action will continue," the group said on its Facebook page.
The demonstrations which kicked off on Tuesday, inspired by an uprising in Tunisia, have been the most significant since bread riots shook the country in 1977, four years before Mubarak came to power.
Cairo has come under international pressure to listen to demonstrators, and all parties have been urged to exercise restraint after police used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters who responded by throwing rocks.

Egypt’s Young Seize Role of Key Opposition to Mubarak

New York Times
For decades, Egypt’s authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, played a clever game with his political opponents.

He tolerated a tiny and toothless opposition of liberal intellectuals whose vain electoral campaigns created the facade of a democratic process. And he demonized the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as a group of violent extremists who posed a threat that he used to justify his police state.

But this enduring and, many here say, all too comfortable relationship was upended this week by the emergence of an unpredictable third force, the leaderless tens of thousands of young Egyptians who turned out to demand an end to Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Now the older opponents are rushing to catch up.

“It was the young people who took the initiative and set the date and decided to go,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Wednesday with some surprise during a telephone interview from his office in Vienna, shortly before rushing home to Cairo to join the revolt.

Dr. ElBaradei, a Nobel prize winner, has been the public face of an effort to reinvigorate and unite Egypt’s fractious and ineffective opposition since he plunged into his home country’s politics nearly a year ago, and he said the youth movement had accomplished that on its own. “Young people are impatient,” he said. “Frankly, I didn’t think the people were ready.”

But their readiness — tens of thousands have braved tear gas, rubber bullets and security police officers notorious for torture — has threatened to upstage or displace the traditional opposition groups.

Many of the tiny, legally recognized political parties — more than 20 in total, with scarcely a parlor full of grass-roots supporters among them — are leaping to embrace the new movement for change but lack credibility with the young people in the street.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood may have grown too protective of its own institutions and position to capitalize on the new youth movement, say some analysts and former members. The Brotherhood remains the organization in Egypt with the largest base of support outside the government, but it can no longer claim to be the only entity that can turn masses of people out into the streets.

“The Brotherhood is no longer the most effective player in the political arena,” said Emad Shahin, an Egyptian scholar now at the University of Notre Dame. “If you look at the Tunisian uprising, it’s a youth uprising. It is the youth that knows how to use the media, Internet, Facebook, so there are other players now.”

Dr. ElBaradei, for his part, has struggled for nearly a year to unite the opposition under his umbrella group, the National Association for Change. But some have mocked him as a globe-trotting dilettante who spends much of his time abroad instead of on the barricades.

He has said in interviews that he never presented himself as a political savior, and that Egyptians would have to make their own revolution. Now, he said, the youth movement “will give them the self-confidence they needed, to know that the change will happen through you and not through one person — you are the driving force.”

And Dr. ElBaradei argued that by upsetting the old relationship between Mr. Mubarak and the Brotherhood, the youth movement posed a new challenge to United States policy makers as well.

“For years,” he said, “the West has bought Mr. Mubarak’s demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood lock, stock and barrel, the idea that the only alternative here are these demons called the Muslim Brotherhood who are the equivalent of Al Qaeda.”

He added: “I am pretty sure that any freely and fairly elected government in Egypt will be a moderate one, but America is really pushing Egypt and pushing the whole Arab world into radicalization with this inept policy of supporting repression.”

The roots of the uprising that filled Egypt’s streets this week arguably stretch back to before the Tunisian revolt, which many protesters cited as the catalyst. Almost three years ago, on April 6, 2008, the Egyptian government crushed a strike by a group of textile workers in the industrial city of Mahalla, and in response a group of young activists who connected through Facebook and other social networking Web sites formed the April 6th Youth Movement in solidarity with the strikers.

Their early efforts to call a general strike were a bust. But over time their leaderless online network and others that sprang up around it — like the networks that helped propel the Tunisian revolution — were uniquely difficult for the Egyptian security police to pinpoint or wipe out. It was an online rallying cry for a show of opposition to tyranny, corruption and torture that brought so many to the streets on Tuesday and Wednesday, unexpectedly vaulting the online youth movement to the forefront as the most effective independent political force in Egypt.

“It would be criminal for any political party to claim credit for the mini-Intifada we had yesterday,” said Hossam el-Hamalawy, a blogger and activist.

Mr. Mubarak’s government, though, is so far sticking to a familiar script. Against all evidence, his interior minister immediately laid blame for Wednesday’s unrest at the foot of the government’s age-old foe, the Muslim Brotherhood.

This time, though, the Brotherhood disclaimed responsibility, saying it was only one part of Dr. ElBaradei’s umbrella group. “People took part in the protests in a spontaneous way, and there is no way to tell who belonged to what,” said Gamal Nassar, a media adviser for the Brotherhood, noting the near-total absence of any group’s signs or slogans, including the Brotherhood’s.

“Everyone is suffering from social problems, unemployment, inflation, corruption and oppression,” he said. “So what everyone is calling for is real change.”

The Brotherhood operates a large network of schools and charities that make up for the many failings of government social services. Some analysts charge that the institutional inertia may make the Brotherhood slow to rock the Egyptian ship of state.

“The Brotherhood has been very silent,” said Amr Hamzawy, research director at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “It is not a movement that can benefit from what has been happening and get people out in the street.”

Nor, Dr. ElBaradei argued, does the Muslim Brotherhood merit the fear its name evokes in the West. Its membership embraces large numbers of professors, lawyers and other professionals as well as followers who benefit from its charities. It has not committed or condoned acts of violence since the uprising against the British-backed Egyptian monarchy six decades ago, and it has endorsed his call for a pluralistic civil democracy.

“They are a religiously conservative group, no question about it, but they also represent about 20 percent of the Egyptian people,” he said. “And how can you exclude 20 percent of the Egyptian people?”

Dr. ElBaradei, with his international prestige, is a difficult critic for Mr. Mubarak’s government to jail, harass or besmirch, as it has many of his predecessors. And Dr. ElBaradei eases concerns about Islamists by putting a secular, liberal and familiar face on the opposition.

But he has been increasingly outspoken in his criticism of the West. He was stunned, he said, by the reaction of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Egyptian protests. In a statement after Tuesday’s clashes, she urged restraint but described the Egyptian government as “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”

“ ‘Stability’ is a very pernicious word,” he said. “Stability at the expense of 30 years of martial law, rigged elections?” He added, “If they come later and say, as they did in Tunis, ‘We respect the will of the Tunisian people,’ it will be a little late in the day.”

Egypt unrest enters third day, ElBaradei to return

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.
Prominent reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei, who lives in Vienna, was expected to return to Egypt on Thursday, an arrival that could galvanize protests that so far have lacked a leader.
At least three protesters and one policeman have died in clashes since they erupted on Tuesday. 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.
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 their demonstrations.
The arrival of ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, gives the opposition a leader of international stature.
"I am going back to Cairo and back onto the streets, because, really, there is no choice. You go out there with this massive number of people and you hope things will not turn ugly, but so far, the regime does not seem to have gotten that message," he said in remarks on U.S. website The Daily Beast.
He said many Egyptians would no longer tolerate Mubarak's government even for a transitional period, and dismissed as "obviously bogus" the suggestion that authoritarian Arab leaders like Mubarak were the only bulwark against Islamic extremism.
"If we are talking about Egypt, there is a whole rainbow variety of people who are secular, liberal, market oriented, and if you give them a chance they will organize to elect a government that is modern and moderate."
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.
Washington, which views Mubarak as a vital ally and bulwark of Middle Eastern peace, has called for calm and, increasingly, urged Egypt to make reforms to meet the protesters demands.
"We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
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 are illiterate.
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.

Egypt's anti-Egyptian protests enter 2nd day, increasing threat to regime

Thousands of Egyptians have vented their rage against President Hosni Mubarak's autocratic government for two straight days of protests that defied a ban on public gatherings. Baton-wielding police responded with tear gas and beatings in a crackdown that has shown no tolerance for dissent.
Egypt's largest anti-government protests in years echoed the uprising in Tunisia, threatening to destabilize the leadership of the most important U.S. ally in the Arab world. The ability of the protesters to sustain the momentum for two days in the face of such a heavy-handed police response was a rare feat in this country.
One protester and a policeman were killed Wednesday, bringing the two-day death toll to six. Some 860 people have been rounded up, and Facebook, Twitter and cellphones — key to organizing protests — have been disrupted.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Egypt to adopt broad reforms and not crack down on the anti-government crowds. She urged the Mubarak regime to "take this opportunity to implement political, economic and social reforms that will answer the legitimate interests of the Egyptian people."
Still, there was no indication that Mubarak, who has ruled with an iron fist for nearly 30 years, intends to relinquish power or make democratic or economic concessions, and no sign he would rein in his security forces.
The defiant demonstrations continued late into the night Wednesday. In Cairo, dozens of riot police with helmets and shields charged more than 2,000 marchers on a downtown boulevard along the Nile. Smaller clashes broke out across the capital. In one, protesters stoned police, who responded with a volley of tear gas from a bridge over the Nile.
One protester, businessman Said Abdel-Motalib, called the civil unrest "a red light to the regime. This is a warning."
In cities across Egypt, protesters incensed by Egypt's grinding poverty, rising prices and high unemployment hurled rocks and firebombs at police and smashed the windows of military vehicles.
The Interior Ministry warned Wednesday that police would not tolerate any gatherings, and thousands of security forces were out on the streets poised to move quickly against any unrest. Many were plainclothes officers whose leather jackets and casual sweat shirts allowed them to blend in easily with protesters.
Thousands of policemen in riot gear and backed by armoured vehicles also took up posts in Cairo, on bridges across the Nile, at major intersections and squares, as well as outside key installations, including the state TV building and the headquarters of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.
Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred activists on a main thoroughfare, chasing them through side streets as both sides pelted each other with rocks while hundreds of onlookers watched. Plainclothes officers shoved some into waiting vans, slapping them in the face.
Observing the clashes, Omima Maher, a 37-year-old housewife lamented her money woes. "Everything is so horrible. I hope we can change it," she said.
A policeman and a demonstrator were killed Wednesday when a car ran them over during a protest in a poor central Cairo neighbourhood, security officials said. Earlier, three demonstrators died in clashes in the city of Suez and one policemen was killed in Cairo violence.
In Suez, east of Cairo, a peaceful gathering turned violent at sunset when protesters threw rocks at a morgue where they were waiting for the body of a man killed a day earlier. Police broke up the crowd with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition fired into the air.
Women screamed as they called their sons home, and men vomited in the streets from the acrid white tear gas that filled the air.
Protesters also firebombed the ruling party headquarters and a police station, damaging both buildings as burning trash littered the streets.
In the southern city of Assiut, witnesses said riot police set upon some 100 activists, beating them with batons and arresting nearly half of them. "Down, down Hosni Mubarak!" chanted the crowd. "Oh, people, join us or you will be next."
Although Wednesday's demonstrations were smaller than the tens of thousands who rallied Tuesday, the unrest follows repeated public outcries in recent months over police brutality, food prices, corruption and, more recently, sectarian strife between Christians and Muslims.
Parliamentary elections in November were widely decried as fraudulent, rigged to allow candidates from Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party to win all but a small fraction of the chamber's 318 seats.
Many in Egypt see the events as a sign of the authoritarian leader's vulnerability in an election year. There is speculation the 82-year-old Mubarak, who recently experienced serious health problems, may be setting his son Gamal up for hereditary succession.
There is considerable public opposition to a father-son succession and, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic memos, such a scenario does not meet with the approval of the powerful military. Still, the regime's tight hold on power has made it virtually impossible for any serious alternative to Mubarak to emerge.
Nearly half of Egypt's 80 million people live under or just above the poverty line set by the World Bank at $2 a day. Combined, the poverty, corruption and social disparity pose a threat to Mubarak's regime at a time when he and his son have been unable to improve the lives of the country's poor.
A persistent rumour that Mubarak's family has fled the country was denied Wednesday as "baseless" by a senior ruling party official. However, the fact that such a rumour found legs speaks to the widely held perception that Mubarak could follow the example of Tunisia's longtime authoritarian ruler, who fled the country with his family in the face of that country's popular uprising this month.
While that is unlikely, failure to rein in the unrest could tempt the military to intervene to take charge of the streets and restore order, or even realign the political order and put forward one if its own as a presidential candidate.
Amr Moussa, the outspoken head of the Arab League once seen as a viable successor to Mubarak, painted a picture of an Arab world that is in turmoil when asked about events in Egypt.
"The Arab citizen is angry, is frustrated. That is the point. So the name of the game is reform," he said at Davos, where he is attending the World Economic Forum meetings.
Many Egyptian protesters say they have been inspired by the uprising in Tunisia — even invoking the same slogans heard in the north African nation.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle invoked Tunisia Wednesday, saying the unrest in Egypt "underlines the necessity of democratization, of respect for human and civil rights."
"We are seeing in the last few weeks that a country's stability is not endangered by granting civil rights. It is through the refusal of civil and human rights that societies become unstable," he said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt weighed in on Twitter, writing: "Worried by reports on restrictions on social media in Egypt. Rights of everyone to peacefully express views must be respected."

Egypt braces for further day of protests

Authorities in Egypt are bracing for the possibility of further protests, following two days of unrest that have left at least four people dead.