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Tense Cairo braces for Mubarak's `day of departure'

Friday February 04, 2011 02:21:17 PM, IANS

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Cairo: Defiant protesters prepared for massive protests Friday -- a day they call the "day of departure" for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who is facing his worst crisis after 30 years of rule.

Some opposition groups plan to intensify protests to force Mubarak to quit Friday, Xinhua and other media organisations reported.

In a sign of divisions in the regime, new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq urged the interior minister not to obstruct Friday's marches, Al Jazeera reported.

Shafiq has already apologised for Wednesday's violence in the heart of Cairo and the unprecedented collapse of law and order in the historic city.

Despite calls for calm, protesters determined to oust Mubarak continue to camp at downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square and were unwilling to back off even after coming under attack from the president's supporters.

The public square has witnessed pitched battles over the past two days, leaving eight people dead and more than 800 injured. The total number of deaths in Egypt since the uprising began Jan 25 has risen to about 150.

Some accounts put the figure at double the number.

On Thursday, fresh clashes erupted near the Egyptian museum in Cairo that houses a record of 7,000 years of civilization.

The protesters want to see Mubarak, 82, go. The president has said he will step down at the end of his term in September but has refused to quit now.

The Friday demonstration comes a day after foreign journalists were viciously attacked by mobs on the streets of Cairo, sparking condemnation from various countries including India.

India has issued a travel advisory for Indian journalists planning to go to Egypt.

Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said in New Delhi Thursday night: "I am pained and shocked to learn about the detention and attacks on journalists in Egypt who were reporting on the unfolding developments. Such incidents are totally unacceptable and must stop immediately."

"The journalists must be released unharmed forthwith and the government must ensure their safety and security," Krishna said, referring to Indian journalists who were detained by gunmen.

"Violence has no place in any civil society and must be strongly condemned by all right thinking persons."

The Indian government said that around 3,000 foreign and Egyptian correspondents were now in Cairo and many were without accreditation with the Egyptian authorities.

The mass of protesters, estimated to number some 10,000 in Tahrir Square, defied a curfew and slept there Thursday night ahead of the Friday show of strength.

The Egyptian army's role will be critical to what happens Friday. Soldiers had created buffer zones around the square to separate the pro- and anti-government protesters but that not prevented clashes from erupting.

Al Jazeera online producer in Cairo said: "The battle for downtown Cairo took on an almost medieval quality, with protesters erecting makeshift barricades and building homemade catapults to launch rocks at each other.

"The pro-democracy protesters organised themselves, building walls and seizing strategic locations; the pro-Mubarak crowd mostly advanced in a mob, hurling rocks and then retreating under return fire," he said.

As the situation worsened, governments and companies chartered evacuation flights. Between 10,000 and 13,000 passengers fled the city Wednesday on around 95 flights.

India has already flown three special flights to bring back its citizens.






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