Via Al Jazeera
Military deployed onto the streets of Cairo amid continued protests across the country.
Thousands of protesters in the Egyptian cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez have defied a nighttime curfew and continued with demonstrations demanding an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year presidency.
Speaking on national television, the president said he had ordered the government to step down and that he would name a new government on Saturday.
Military armoured vehicles rolled onto the streets of the capital on Friday night in a bid to quell the protests, but buildings have been set alight, and violent clashes continue after a day of unprecedented anger.
A building belonging to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was torched, and reports of looting of numerous government buildings have also emerged.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo, said that several police vehicles were also set ablaze, and firefighters did not appear to be on the streets.
Before Mubarak’s announcement, Egypt’s parliamentary speaker said the president remained in control of the country despite chaos engulfing the capital and other cities.
“Matters are in the safe hands of Hosni Mubarak and he will act and you will see these actions,” Fathy Surour said.
Friday’s demonstrations involving tens of thousands of people were the biggest and bloodiest in four consecutive days of protests against Mubarak’s government.
Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from the port city of Alexandria, said that protesters there were also defying the curfew.
In the eastern city of Suez, at least 11 people were killed and 170 wounded, Al Jazeera has learned.
At least 1,030 people were wounded during Friday’s protests, some in a serious condition with bullet wounds, medical sources said.
Police officers were also wounded, but numbers were not immediately clear, the sources told Reuters news agency.
As darkness fell, tracked armoured cars took up positions in key cities. It was not immediately clear what role it would play or how troops would react to the protesters.
“The armed forces started to deploy forces in the governorates of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez as a first stage in implementing the decree … imposing a curfew starting from 6pm,” state media reported.
Hundreds of people thronged around a military vehicle near Cairo’s Tahrir square.
Tanks cordoned off the American and British embassies in the capital in the evening.
Protesters had previously chanted slogans calling for the army to support them, complaining of police violence during clashes in which security forces fired teargas and rubber bullets.
“Where is the army? Come and see what the police is doing to us. We want the army. We want the army,” protesters in one area of central Cairo shouted, shortly before police fired teargas on them.
Al Jazeera’s Mohyeldin said protesters reacted positively when a military armoured vehicle showed up.
“The army is a respected establishment in Egypt, and many feel they need their support against what they see as excessive force by the police and security forces,” he said.
Buildings set ablaze
Shots were heard near parliament earlier in the day as the headquarters of the ruling party were in flames, the blaze lighting up the night sky.
In Suez, the site of the strategically crucial canal, armoured cars were deployed in front of the charred remains of a police station, a Reuters witness said.
Dozens of protesters climbed on the military vehicles in Suez. They talked to soldiers who attempted to wave them off.
As reports of looting emerged, state media said army units secured the Egyptian Museum in the capital, where pharaonic treasures are displayed.
Looters had broken into an NDP building located near the museum and were walking out with furniture, computers and other items.
Protesters often quickly dispersed and regrouped.
Some held banners saying: “Everyone against one” and chanted “Peaceful peaceful peaceful, no violence.” Others threw shoes at and stamped on posters of Mubarak.
As clashes intensified, police waded into the crowds with batons and fired volleys of tear gas.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog and an opposition leader in Egypt, was briefly detained by police after he prayed at a mosque in the Giza area but he later took part in a march with supporters.
The unrest in Egypt was triggered by the overthrow two weeks ago of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in an uprising that has also inspired anti-government protests in Yemen and elsewhere.
The government in Egypt had vowed to crack down on demonstrations and arrest those participating in them. It had blocked internet, mobile phone and SMS services in order to disrupt the planned demonstrations.
Before internet access was shut down on Thursday night, activists were posting and exchanging messages using social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, listing more than 30 mosques and churches where protesters were to organise on Friday
Ibrahim Yousri, the former head of international law at the Egyptian foreign ministry, told Al Jazeera that the government had been warned for many years to adopt reforms.
“This is effectively the beginning of the end of the regime. This government was warned to implement reforms, but they ignored calls over the years,” he said.
“Most Egyptians also would not want a military government, but a temporary, or transitional government that is led by a civilian.”
It is far from a foregone conclusion that the protesters will force Mubarak out. They face two key challenges, said Amon Aran, a Middle East expert at London’s City University, told Reuters news agency.
“One is the Egyptian security apparatus, which over the years has developed a vested interest in the survival of President Mubarak’s regime. This elaborate apparatus has demonstrated over the past few days that it is determined to crush political dissent,” he said.
“Another obstacle derives from the fact that, so far, the protesters do not seem to form a coherent political opposition.
The popular outcry is loud and clear, but whether it can translate into a political force is questionable.”