Protests in Egypt ElBaradei Under House Arrest as Demonstrations Rock Cairo

Mass protests in Egypt continued to spread on Friday, with police breaking up demonstrations with tear gas and force. Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei has also been detained and President Hosni Mubarak has said he will address his people on Friday night.

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By Yassin Musharbash in Cairo

Once Friday prayers finished in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, the scream of sirens filled the air. Soon after, demonstrators swarmed into the city center -- and police reacted with force. The sound of exploding tear gas grenades could be heard everywhere in the early afternoon; clouds of tear gas covered central Cairo like fog. Police also used water cannons and rubber bullets in an attempt to break up the demonstrations. Security personnel fired warning shots into the air.

The scenes of chaos and violence on Friday are the latest in a week full of protests as Egyptians take to the streets to protest the heavy-handed rule of President Hosni Mubarak, who has led the country for 30 years. Demonstrations began on Tuesday, and fully 1,000 people have been arrested since -- even before protests began on Friday.

Observers say that it is unlikely that Mubarak's regime will topple as readily as that of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled his country earlier this month following mass protests. And police in Egypt appear to be doing all they can on Friday to restore order.

But for the first time since bread riots shook the country in 1977, large numbers of Egyptians are defying the country's ban on demonstrations and are taking to the streets.

Mubarak to Address the Nation

Egyptian authorities also placed opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei under house arrest on Friday. Earlier in the day, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and his supporters had joined forces with protesters. After being shot at with a water cannon, ElBaradei retreated to a mosque that was then circled by police. In the surrounding streets, police fired canisters of tear gas in order to prevent anyone from leaving the mosque. The tear gas canisters also caused several cars to catch on fire and several people suffered burn injuries.

The opposition Muslim Brotherhood has also supported the protests. The Islamist group stated Friday that five leaders and five former members of parliament had been arrested. The Egyptian government announced a nightfall curfew across the country, but demonstrators appeared to be ignoring it as evening progressed. Mubarak announced that he was going to address the nation on Friday evening.

Some of the rallies on Friday developed spontaneously, wherever protesters found the courage to gather together. "Join up, join up," a woman yells at passers-by on one of the bridges spanning the Nile River. Just as quickly as knots of protesters form, however, the police move in to try to disperse them.

Al-Jazeera has reported on Friday that protests are taking place across the country. And in Cairo, while quarters outside the city center are calm, security personnel are to be found on almost every street in central quarters. The protests, however, have continued. Only Tahrir Square, where tens of thousands gathered on Tuesday, is quiet as police have completely sealed it off, though demonstrators were pushing toward the square in the late afternoon.

Police Given Firm Orders

Just before Friday's demonstrations got underway, Egyptian security forces were reportedly instructed to use their weapons should the need arise. "The police received clear orders to stop all demonstrations and, should the need arise, to shoot directly at demonstrators," a security official said. Armed personnel carriers were parked on all large squares in the Egyptian capital with police cars filling the side streets.

It was difficult to gain a clear overview of the scale of Friday's protests and there were no confirmations available for reports of injured demonstrators. Al Jazeera reported on Friday that violent clashes took place on Abdel Moneim Riyad Square resulting in one death. Witnesses told Reuters of a dead protester in the city of Suez. Reports also emerged Friday of further protests in the cities of Alexandria, Minja, Assiut and Arish.

Egyptian officials have largely shut down both the Internet and mobile phone networks. The entire country has been mostly offline since early Friday morning, eliminating many of the tools protesters had been using to organize demonstrations. The monitoring site BGPmon has reported that 90 percent of the Egyptian Internet is down. Notable is the fact that almost all Internet providers blocked access in coordination with each other.

Ordered to Suspend Service

During similar events in other cases, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were typically blocked, a posting on BGPmon's site reads. But "in this case the government seems to be taking a shotgun approach by ordering ISPs to stop routing all networks." There are also currently massive disturbances and outages in the Egyptian mobile phone networks. European mobile phone giant Vodafone announced Friday that network operators in selected regions had been ordered to suspend service.

Meanwhile, a posting on a blog by James Cowie, an employee of Renesys, a New Hampshire-based company that monitors Internet routing data, states that the situation is completely different from the "modest Internet manipulation" that took in place in Tunisia, where "specific routes were blocked, or Iran, where the Internet stayed up in a rate-limited form designed to make Internet connectivity painfully slow." The Egyptian government's actions, Cowie wrote, "have essentially wiped their country from the global map." He adds that it remains to be seen "what happens when you disconnect a modern economy and 80,000,000 people from the Internet."

The servers hosting the websites of the Egyptian government and the US Embassy in Cairo were also apparently down, according CNN. But in Germany, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin said it still had a communications link to the German Embassy in Cairo. Meanwhile, several German package tour operators cancelled tours of Cairo offered to travelers. Egypt is a popular tourist destination for many Europeans seeking an escape from the winter cold.


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