Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak refused to step down on Friday while promising a new government after dismissing the current cabinet.
The latest announcement comes after a day and evening of violent protests in several Egyptian cities where people clashed with security forces demanding en end to Mubarak’s 30 year old regime.
In the worst turmoil Egypt has witnessed in decades, protestors clashed with troops and riot-police amid a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed by authorities.
As the army was deployed in several cities, Mr. Mubarak tried to defend the police handling of crowds saying legitimate protest had turned into “disorderly acts threatening public order”.
Western countries have watched with increasing anxiety as violent protests spread across the country and Mr. Mubarak – a tested ally struggled to hang on to power.
The US has already warned Cairo that it will review the $1.5 billion military and civilian aid given each year while President Obama urged Mr. Mubarak to initiate “concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people”.
President Obama is understood to have called upon Mr. Mubarak to “give meaning” to his promise of economic opportunity and democracy.
“I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they’ve taken to interfere with access to the internet, to cell phone service, and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century”, President Obama said adding “this moment of volatility that has to be turned into a moment of promise”. While urging Mr. Mubarak to respect the people’s rights, President Obama stopped short of asking Mr. Mubarak to step down.
The current turmoil in Egypt, partly inspired by Tunisia, is unlikely to cool down with Mr. Mubarak’s dismissal of the present government; which is seeking his ouster.
The headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was set on fire in Cairo as smoke filled the night sky. Reports of angry mob torching NDP offices in other cities also poured in while unconfirmed reports suggested that five people have died since violence erupted.
The military establishment has been loyal to Mr. Mubarak, but it’s not clear how they will react in the face of public outrage. Media reports suggest that Mohamed ElBaradei – the Nobel Laureate and reform advocate seeking a regime change, has been put under house arrest since Thursday.
The cities of Cairo, Suez and Alexandria have witnessed the worst clashes and curfew was imposed from 6 pm to 7 am. The United Nations Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay said more than 1,000 people have been arrested since protests broke out.
The police fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets as protestors shouted “The people want to bring down the regime”, a slogan borrowed from the recent uprising in Tunisia – where the despotic president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali had to flee the country after remaining in power for 23 years.
Sarah – a media professional was seen distributing vinegar to people to fight the effects of tear gas. “I know that they will attack us and maybe we will die” she said, indicating that authorities may turn violent any time soon.
“We will do what we need to”, said Mohamed – a student soaked by water cannon fire. “This is different from what has happened before. Everyone knows that now. Something has to give”, said Ali – a construction company manager.
Calling on the authorities and the demonstrators to exercise restraint, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said “I have been calling on the authorities to see this situation as an opportunity to address the legitimate concerns of their people”. He urged both parties to “avoid further violence”.