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02 March 2024

Three killed in anti-Mubarak protests


Three people died Tuesday during protests across Egypt, where tens of thousands took to the streets to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak inspired by Tunisia's uprising.

Two protesters, Ahmed Soliman Gaber and Mustafa Ragab, died in the port city of Suez in clashes between police and demonstrators, medical officials told AFP.

A policeman, Ahmed Aziz, died from his wounds in Cairo, where thousands had gathered in Tahrir Square, a security official said.

No details were provided about the circumstances of the deaths.

In several cities, including Cairo and Suez, police fired tear gas at protesters, who responded by throwing rocks.

The protests were considered the largest and most significant since riots over bread subsidies shook the Arab world's most populous nation in 1977.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged all sides to "exercise restraint" and said Washington believes the Egyptian government is stable.

Despite some 20,000 to 30,000 police being deployed in central Cairo, thousands marched to Tahrir Square, where they chanted in unison: "The people want the ouster of the regime."

In a nearby road that leads to parliament, police sprayed water cannons as protesters threw stones. Some managed to commandeer a riot police truck and drive it for a few metres (yards).

Police moved into Tahrir Square shortly before 1:00 am (2300 GMT) Wednesday firing tear gas canisters at protesters, who then scattered to nearby streets.

The protest, called by the pro-democracy youth group the April 6 Movement, coincided with a national holiday to mark Police Day, and came after the dramatic ouster of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali following a wave of street riots.

In another Cairo neighbourhood, demonstrators tore down Police Day posters of Mubarak and Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and set them on fire.

A statement released by the interior ministry said security forces had decided to allow demonstrators "to voice their demands and exercise their freedom of expression," with a commitment to "securing and not confronting these gathering."

The ministry said that by the afternoon, a number of protesters, "particularly a large number of those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood... began to riot, damage public public property and throw stones at police forces."

Among demands are the departure of the interior minister, whose security forces have been accused of heavy-handedness, an end to a decades-old state of emergency and a rise in minimum wages.

"We have a corrupt regime that wants to continue with oppression forever," said one of the protesters in Cairo, lawyer Ibrahim Mohammed, 21.

"These demonstrations are the most important since 1977, not only because of the number of participants and the fact that they are across the country, but because for the first time they are coming from the average man on the street," said analyst Amr al-Choubaki of the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

"The revolution in Tunisia of course, has been an inspiration."

Protests also broke out in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, the Nile Delta cities of Mansura and Tanta, and in the southern cities of Aswan and Assiut, witnesses said.

At least 20,000 demonstrated in Alexandria, Egypt's second city. Thousands gathered in Mansura, waving Egyptian flags and demanding more rights for Egyptians.

In the port city of Ismailiya, over a thousand chanted anti-government slogans and warned other Arab leaders they would meet the same fate as Tunisia's Ben Ali, ousted by a popular uprising after 23 years in power.

"Zine El Abidine, who is coming next," they shouted.

In Washington, Clinton defended the right of Egyptians to demonstrate peacefully.

"We support the fundamental right of expression and assembly for all people and we urge that all parties exercise restraint and refrain from violence," she told reporters.

"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."

The protests have been inspired by the month-long street riots in Tunisia that prompted Ben Ali to take refuge in Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

Tunisian grievances have been echoed throughout the Arab world, whose mainly autocratic leaders have been unnerved by the turn of events.

The Egyptian authorities have rejected any possibility that they might face a similar scenario but, in a sign of anxiety, they have moved to reassure the public that subsidies on basic commodities will remain in place.

Around 40 percent of Egypt's population of 80 million live on as little as two dollars per day and many people rely on subsidised goods.