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Protesters Making Political Statements by Setting Themselves on Fire

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Hamadah (Photo: AP)

CAIRO (The Blaze/AP) -- Two men set themselves on fire in Egypt and Mauritania Monday, raising to three the number of self-immolation attempts apparently influenced by a similar action in Tunisia that helped trigger a popular uprising.

The desperate acts raised concerns that the practice could become a trend among activists seeking to force change in a region that has little or no tolerance for dissent.

The Egyptian man was engulfed by flames after he ignited himself outside the parliament building in central Cairo. Policemen guarding the building and motorists driving by at the time used fire extinguishers to quickly put out the blaze, according to security officials.

An Egyptian news outlet claims video of one of the acts has made its way on to YouTube, however the video has not been confirmed:

Health Ministry spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shahine said the man was taken to the hospital with light burns, mostly to his face, neck and legs. Officials identified him as Abdou Abdel-Monaam Hamadah, a 48-year-old owner of a small restaurant from Qantara, an area close to the Suez Canal city of Ismailia east of Cairo.

Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said Hamadah was protesting a government policy preventing restaurant owners from buying cheap subsidized bread to resell to their patrons.

A subsidized loaf of typical Egyptian flat bread sells for about 1 U.S. cent apiece, but sells for five times that much to restaurant owners.

Hamadah asked policemen guarding the parliament building to meet speaker Fathi Sorour, officials said. When they refused, Hamadah stepped back, took out a bottle filled with petrol from his pocket, doused himself with the liquid and set himself alight.

The policemen and passing motorists rushed to him with fire extinguishers to put out the flames.

The website of Egypt's leading Al-Ahram daily said Hamadah was a father of four and had repeatedly entered heated arguments with local officials over the bread issue.

A Mauritanian man reportedly unhappy with the government also was hospitalized after setting himself on fire Monday.

Witnesses say 43-year-old Yacoub Ould Dahoud drove to a government building in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, and torched himself in his car. Foreign ministry official Adbou Ould Sidi says police rushed him to the hospital.

The attempt follows similar incidents, including one in Algeria.

Monday's incidents appeared to be attempts to copy the fatal self-immolation last month of an unemployed Tunisian man. That event triggered the protests that led to the ouster of Tunisia's authoritarian president.

Algeria's Liberte daily reported that a 37-year-old man set himself alight Saturday in a village near the Tunisian border, and died hours later in the hospital.

The acts follow that of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old with a university degree, who set himself on fire after police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit. He later died in a hospital near Tunis, and his desperate act touched a nerve with educated, unemployed youths nationwide in Tunisia, and sparked the mass protests that toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

News of the Tunisian uprising has dominated the Arab media over the past few days.

Opposition and independent newspapers lauded Ben Ali's fall and drew parallels between his toppled regime and that of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled for nearly 30 years.

Egypt has posted impressive economic growth rates over the past few years, in part fueled by a host of ambitious reforms. But the growth has failed to filter down to many of the estimated 80 million Egyptians.

Nearly half of all Egyptians live under or just above the poverty line set by the U.N. at $2 a day. Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party have been pledging to ensure that the fruits of economic reforms benefit more Egyptians.

Self-immolation as a method of protest is uncommon in Egypt, although women in rural and poor urban areas have been known to set themselves on fire to protest violent husbands, abusive parents or an unwanted suitor.

In November, the New York Times noted the practice was on the rise among Afghan women.

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Associated Press writer Ahmed Mohamed in Nouakchott, Mauritania, contributed to this report.

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