EGYPT'S anti-government uprising showed signs of descending into lawlessness after thousands of prisoners were yesterday released on to the streets in a series of mass jailbreaks.
Inmates escaped from at least four jails across the country, including suspected Islamic extremists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist opposition group.
After one jailbreak at the Abu Zaabal prison on the outskirts of Cairo, locals said 18 people were killed when gangs fought a six-hour gun battle with guards to free jailed associates.
As darkness fell, groups of club-wielding "citizens' committees" manned checkpoints at road junctions across Cairo and other cities in an attempt to stop looters.
Egyptian police have been absent from the streets since last Friday -- when they lost control of demonstrations seeking the end of President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule -- although they were reported to be returning last night.
The army has been on the streets since then, but is largely restricted to static guard duty in tanks.
Many Egyptians claimed that the jailbreaks and looting were deliberately orchestrated by Mr Mubarak to convince them that an end to his rule would simply lead to chaos.
"Egyptian state television has been showing the pictures of looting all day," said one man. "This is designed to get protesters to leave the streets and go back to guard their homes."
At the Abu Zaabal jail, locals claimed that thousands of prisoners had escaped. (© Daily Telegraph, London))