Thousands of Egyptians demanded an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule and three people were killed in unprecedented countrywide protests Tuesday inspired by the Tunisian revolt while the United States expressed confidence in Egypt’s government and urged calm.
“Down, down, Hosni Mubarak,” chanted protesters in Cairo, where police fired teargas and used water cannon, and protesters hurled bottles and rocks at them.
Two protesters in the city of Suez, east of Cairo, died as a result of rubber bullets, security and medical sources said. State television said one security officer died in central Cairo because of a blow to the head from a stone that was thrown.
Some protesters were beaten hard by police with sticks. Others, in a rare show of nerve against a huge national security operation, chased police down side streets. Reuters TV footage showed one policeman joining the demonstrators.
In Alexandria protesters flipped over a police vehicle and tore down a picture of Mubarak, 82, and one of his son, Gamal, who many Egyptians believe is being groomed for office when his father stands down. Both deny this.
Protesters in Cairo who responded to calls by web activists for action cried: “Gamal, tell your father Egyptians hate you.”
Analyst Nabil Abdel-Fattah said: “What is happening today is a major warning to the system. It is both an extension of pent-up frustrations and continued protests. What is also new is that there are new generations who are using new tools.”
The protest could gather momentum unless the state swiftly addressed the demand for reform, he said.
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been key tools for activists in galvanizing protesters. Harvard University’s Herdict web monitoring service reported that Egyptians said the Twitter website was blocked on all Internet Service Providers.
Egyptians have the same complaints that drove Tunisians onto the streets: surging food prices, poverty, unemployment and authoritarian rule that smothers public protests quickly and often brutally. “Tunisia, Tunisia,” protesters shouted.
The United States said the government in Egypt was stable and called for restraint from all sides to avoid violence. “We support the fundamental right of expression and assembly for all people and we urge that all parties exercise restraint and refrain from violence,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
“But our impression is that the Egyptian government is stable, and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” she said.
The protests in Cairo and other cities may have drawn 20,000 people or more, based on witnesses. An Interior Ministry statement said more than 10,000 gathered in one central square in Cairo alone, but did not give an overall number.
But it is hard to estimate because protests were so spread out and state media gave only cursory mention of the events.
Egyptian protests usually draw only a few hundred people. The large numbers and the fact that protests across several cities were coordinated in a way not seen before gave Tuesday’s events a force unprecedented since Mubarak took office in 1981.
With most formal opposition groups fractured and toothless, web activists led the calls for Tuesday’s demonstrations, billed as a “Day of Wrath” against poverty and repression.
By drawing demonstrators in such numbers, online activists have shown their calls for political change can reach a broad audience. Until now most of the rage has stayed on the Internet.
As night fell, police and protesters in Cairo’s central Tahrir square mingled and some shared food. Some protesters showed no sign of quitting for the night.
Messages on Twitter and Facebook read earlier: “Tahrir protesters are not going home. They need food and blankets. Roads are closed, so if you live nearby, please help.”
Others called for more protests in the days ahead.
Demonstrations took place in Ismailia and Suez, both cities east of Cairo, and in other Nile Delta cities like Mansoura and Tanta. Protesters also gathered in north Sinai.
Medical and security sources said dozens were injured.
A security source said 15 people were detained in Cairo. A group of lawyers said some 85 were detained across Egypt. Another source said two police officers were injured in Suez when rocks were hurled. Witnesses saw protesters dragged off by police.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that despite the provocative approach of some demonstrators “they were allowed to organize peaceful protests.”– Agencies