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Cairo descends into chaos as protesters turn up the heat

Egypt's president fired his Cabinet early today after protesters engulfed his country in chaos.

Angry mobs battled police with stones and firebombs, burning down the ruling party headquarters and defying a night curfew enforced by the army.

In a nationally televised address at midnight, President Hosni Mubarak made vague promises of social reform but did not offer to step down himself.

He also defended his security forces -- outraging protesters calling for an end to his nearly 30-year regime.

"We want Mubarak to go and instead he is digging in further," protester Kamal Mohammad said.

"He thinks it is calming down the situation but he is just angering people more."

Pouring on to the streets after Friday noon prayers, protesters ignored extreme government measures that included cutting off the internet and mobile-phone services in Cairo and other areas, calling the army into the streets and imposing a nationwide nighttime curfew.

Egypt's crackdown on demonstrators drew harsh criticism from the Obama administration and even a threat to reduce a $1.5bn foreign aid programme if Washington's most important Arab ally escalates the use of force.


Stepping up the pressure, President Barack Obama told a news conference he called Mr Mubarak immediately after his TV address and urged the Egyptian leader to take "concrete steps" to expand rights and refrain from violence against protesters.

"The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful," Mr Obama said.

Flames rose in cities across Egypt, including Alexandria, Suez, Assiut and Port Said.

Calling the anti-government protests "part of a bigger plot to shake the stability" of Egypt's political system, a sombre-looking Mr Mubarak said: "We aspire for more democracy, more effort to combat unemployment and poverty and combat corruption."

Still, his words were likely to be interpreted as an attempt to cling to power rather than a pledge to take concrete steps to solve Egypt's pressing problems -- poverty, unemployment and rising food prices.

"Out, out, out!" protesters chanted in violent, chaotic scenes of battles with riot police and the army -- which was sent on to the streets for the first time yesterday during the crisis.


Protesters seized the streets of Cairo, battling police with stones and firebombs and burning down the ruling party headquarters.

Many defied a 6pm curfew and crowds remained on the streets long after midnight, where buildings and tyres were still burning and there was widespread looting.

At least one protester was killed yesterday, bringing the toll for the week to eight. Demonstrators were seen dragging away bloodied, unconscious protesters.

Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading pro-democracy advocate, was soaked with a water cannon and briefly trapped inside a mosque after joining the protests.

He was later placed under house arrest.