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Egyptian Protesters Defy Nightime Curfew

"Mubarak must fall."

CAIRO (AP) — Hundreds of anti-government protesters returned Saturday to the streets of central Cairo, chanting slogans against Hosni Mubarak and attacking police just hours after the Egyptian president fired his Cabinet and promised reforms but refused to step down.

The sight of protesters pouring into Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square and clashing with police for a fifth day indicated Mubarak's words in a televised speech shortly after midnight had done little to cool the anger over Egypt's crushing poverty, unemployment and corruption.

Over five days of protests — the largest Egypt has experienced in decades — crowds have overwhelmed police forces in Cairo and other cities around the nation with their numbers and in attacks with rocks and firebombs.

Overnight, the government called in military forces and by morning the army had replaced police in guarding government buildings and other key areas around the capital.

Several tanks were parked in the vast Tahrir Square, but soldiers did not intervene in Saturday's protest there. Protesters hurling stones attacked riot police trying to enter the square, and officers responded with a barrage of tear gas and rubber bullets.

"What we want is for Mubarak to leave, not just his government," said Mohammed Mahmoud. "We will not stop protesting until he goes."

Some protesters were wearing T-shirts with "Down with Mubarak" emblazoned on their fronts. Others chanted "The people want to topple the regime."

Not far from the square, the army sealed off the road leading to the parliament and Cabinet buildings.

Along the Nile, smoke was still billowing from the ruling party's headquarters, which protesters set ablaze during Friday's unrest, the most dramatic day of protests since the unrest began on Tuesday.

Also Saturday, mobile phone services were restored after a government-ordered communications blackout aimed at stopping Friday's protests. Protesters have used text messaging and social networking websites to coordinate demonstrations.

Vodafone and Mobinil cell phone services were working Saturday morning, about 24 hours after they were cut, but Internet service appeared to remain blocked.

Mubarak, confronted with the most dire threat to his three decades of authoritarian rule, faced his nation for the first time since the unrest began. In a televised address at midnight, he made vague promises of social reform in what is likely to be interpreted as an attempt to cling to power rather than a genuine pledge solve Egypt's pressing problems.

He also defended his security forces and accused the protesters of plotting to destabilize Egypt and destroy the legitimacy of his regime, outraging those still in the streets well into the night.

"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."

Mubarak's speech came after a tumultuous day in which protesters burned down and looted the headquarters of Mubarak's political party along the banks of the Nile and set fire to many other buildings, roaming the streets of downtown Cairo in defiance of a night curfew enforced by the army. There was also widespread looting of shops and businesses.

By daybreak, several of the city's main streets were strewn with rocks and burned-out police vehicles even as some vehicle and foot traffic returned to the center of the city.

Buildings, statues and even armored security vehicles were covered in anti-Mubarak graffiti, including the words "Mubarak must fall," which by morning had been written over to say "Mubarak fell."

A heavy police crackdown and other extreme measures by the government — including the shutting down of all Internet and mobile phone services in Cairo and other areas on Friday — did not stop the surging crowds. With police beaten back in many places, the government called the army into the streets and imposed a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Egypt's crackdown drew harsh criticism from the Obama administration and even a threat Friday to reduce a $1.5 billion foreign aid program 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 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," Obama said.

Throughout Friday, flames rose in cities across Egypt, including Alexandria, Suez, Assiut and Port Said, and security officials said there were protests in 11 of the country's 28 provinces.

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

He was expected to name a new Cabinet on Saturday.

His promises fell short of the protesters' demands for him to step down.

At least one protester was killed Friday, bringing the toll for the week to eight. Demonstrators were seen dragging bloodied, unconsciousness protesters to waiting cars and on to hospitals, but no official number of wounded was announced.

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.

In the capital Friday, hundreds of young men carted away televisions, fans and stereo equipment looted from the ruling National Democratic Party, near the Egyptian Museum, home of King Tutankhamun's treasures. Young men formed a human barricade in front of the museum to protect one of Egypt's most important tourist attractions.

Others around the city looted banks, smashed cars, tore down street signs and pelted armored riot police vehicles with paving stones torn from roadways.

"We are the ones who will bring change," declared 21-year-old Ahmed Sharif. "If we do nothing, things will get worse. Change must come!" he screamed through a surgical mask he wore to ward off the tear gas.

Egypt's national airline halted flights for at least 12 hours and a Cairo Airport official said some international airlines had canceled flights to the capital, at least overnight. There were long lines at many supermarkets and employees limited bread sales to 10 rolls per person.

Options appeared to be dwindling for Mubarak, an 82-year-old former air force commander who until this week maintained what looked like rock-solid control of the most populous Arab nation and the cultural heart of the region.

The scenes of anarchy along the Nile played out on television and computer screens from Algiers to Riyadh, two weeks to the day after protesters in Tunisia drove out their autocratic president. Images of the protests in Tunisia emboldened Egyptians to take to the streets in demonstrations organized over mobile phone, Facebook and Twitter.

The Mubarak government boasts about economic achievements: rising GDP and a surging private sector led by a construction boom and vibrant, seemingly recession-proof banks.

But many say the fruits of growth have been funneled almost entirely to a politically connected elite, leaving average Egyptians surrounded by unattainable symbols of wealth as they struggle to find jobs, pay daily bills and find affordable housing.

Some of the most serious violence Friday was in Suez, where protesters seized weapons stored in a police station and asked the policemen inside to leave the building before they burned it down. They also set ablaze about 20 police trucks parked nearby. Demonstrators exchanged fire with policemen trying to stop them from storming another police station and one protester was killed in the gun battle.

In Assiut in southern Egypt, several thousand demonstrators clashed with police that set upon them with batons and sticks, chasing them through side streets.

Mubarak has not said yet whether he will stand for another six-year term as president in elections this year. He has never appointed a deputy and is thought to be grooming his son Gamal to succeed him despite popular opposition. According to leaked U.S. memos, hereditary succession also does not meet with the approval of the powerful military.

___

Ben Curtis and Diaa Hadid contributed to this report.

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