CAIRO (Reuters) - Thousands of Egyptians defied a ban on protests by returning to Egypt’s streets on Wednesday and calling for President Hosni Mubarak to leave office, and some scuffled with police.
Activists had called on Egyptians to take to the streets again to end Mubarak’s 30-year rule after Tuesday’s “Day of Wrath” involving anti-government protests across Egypt in which three protesters and one policeman were killed.
The three protesters died in the eastern city of Suez, and the policeman was killed in Cairo.
Police use riot trucks on Wednesday to break up a crowd of as many as 3,000 people who had gathered outside a Cairo court complex, one of the places where demonstrations had started on Tuesday.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the morgue in Suez demanding the release of one of the three bodies, witnesses said. Protesters said he was killed by several gunshots and demanded an autopsy.
“The government has killed my son,” the Suez protesters outside the morgue chanted. “Oh Habib, tell your master, your hands are soiled with our blood,” they said, referring to Interior Minister Habib al-Adli.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside Cairo’s journalists’ syndicate, where the authorities allow regular protests. Police beat some with batons when they tried to break a cordon. Protesters on buildings threw stones at police below.
The state news agency said 90 people were arrested while trying to gather in Tahrir square in central Cairo, the focus of the biggest demonstrations. A judicial source said 64 people were detained in Alexandria.
The interior ministry had earlier banned all protest meetings. “No provocative movements or protest gatherings or organisation of marches or demonstrations will be allowed, and immediate legal procedures will be taken and participants will be handed over to investigating authorities,” the state news agency MENA cited the ministry as saying.
On Tuesday some 20,000 demonstrators, complaining of poverty, unemployment, corruption and repression and inspired by this month’s downfall of the president of Tunisia, had turned out in cities across Egypt to demand that Mubarak step down.
“To any free and honest citizen with a conscience who fears for his country, to anyone who saw yesterday’s violence against protesters, we ask you to pronounce a general strike across Egypt today and tomorrow,” one activist wrote on a Facebook site that has been used as a tool to marshal protests.
One opposition group, the Sixth of April Youth, called on its Facebook page for more protests on Wednesday “and after tomorrow, until Mubarak goes”.
Facebook has been a key means of communication for protesters, but Egyptians said the site was blocked on Wednesday. Twitter confirmed its site was blocked on Tuesday, although users could still access it via proxy sites.
Demands posted on Facebook included the resignation of Mubarak and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, the dissolution of parliament and formation of a national unity government.
The Internet has been the main platform for some of the most vociferous criticism of Mubarak.
The complaints echo those of fellow Arabs in Tunisia: soaring food prices, a lack of jobs and authoritarian rule that usually crushes protests swiftly and with a heavy hand.
Egypt’s population of 80 million is growing by 2 percent a year. About 60 percent of the population — and 90 percent of the unemployed — are under 30 years old. About 40 percent live on less than $2 a day, and a third are illiterate.
Investors fretted over instability. Egypt’s stock market, shut on Tuesday for a holiday, fell 6 percent on Wednesday, the Egyptian pound hit a six-year low against the U.S. dollar and the cost of insuring Egyptian debt against default rose.
Washington, a close ally and major donor, called for restraint. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mubarak’s government was stable and seeking ways to meet Egyptians’ needs.
“Change must happen. It must,” said a butcher in central Cairo who asked to be identified simply as “an Egyptian”.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Britain and the United States, told Reuters Insider Television the future of Mubarak’s government depended on its ability to understand the reasons for the protests.
“Whether they can catch up as leaders to what the population is aiming (for) is still to be seen,” he said.
A government source said ministers had been told to ensure staff returned to work on Wednesday and did not join protests.
“The difference is great between freedom of expression and chaos,” Safwat el-Sherif, secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party, told the state newspaper al-Akhbar.
But the activists on the Web appeared determined to keep up their momentum.
“Tomorrow, don’t go to work. Don’t go to college. We will all go down to the streets and stand hand in hand for you, our Egypt. We will be millions,” one activist wrote on Facebook.
Tuesday’s coordinated anti-government protests were unlike anything witnessed in Egypt since Mubarak came to power in 1981 after president Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamists.