Egypt protest death toll rises

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak names a vice-president for the first time in his embattled 30-year rule as massive protests grips Cairo and other major cities in Egypt for a fifth day.

Mubarak appoints VP, PM as thousands defy curfew in major cities

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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak named a vice-president for the first time in his embattled 30-year rule as massive protests gripped Cairo and other major cities in Egypt for a fifth day.

BBC and Reuters are both reporting more than 75 people have been killed in protests around the country since Tuesday.  Reuters says medical sources have tallied the injured at about 2,000.

In the capital, police opened fire on protesters who tried to storm the interior ministry, killing at least one demonstrator. At least one body was seen being carried out on the shoulders of protesters. Others were reported injured, but it's not clear how many.

The violence occurred as tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets of central Cairo on Saturday, chanting slogans against Mubarak in defiance of an evening curfew and warnings by the military.

The number of protesters continued to build in Cairo's Tahrir Square, translated as Liberation Square, even after a night-time curfew came into effect at 4 p.m. local time, the CBC's Nahlah Ayed reported from the scene.

"It certainly doesn't look like there's a curfew in place. In fact, it looks like very much the opposite," Ayed said, adding that soldiers were "watching and pretty much letting the protesters do what they want."

Looters have taken advantage of the chaos and broken into Cairo's famed Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, tearing the heads off two mummies and damaging about 10 objects before army soldiers arrested them and took over.

Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities chief, said Saturday the museum is now under army protection. Hawass said young Egyptians created a human chain at the front gate to prevent looters from making off with objects before the military arrived.

About 120,000 priceless artifacts, including the gold mask of King Tutankhamun, are stored at the museum.

Armoured personnel carriers have been seen protecting archeological sites, including the Karnak Temple in the ancient town of Luxor.

Revolt in prisons

BBC News is also reporting prisoners have taken over a section of the Abu Za'abal prison in Cairo. A producer with the BBC's Arabic service said prison inmates rioted in the city of Manufiya, north-west of Cairo.

Nile TV reports 1,000 inmates escaped a prison south of Cairo. People in surrounding neighbourhoods were forced to arm themselves with bats, knives and broken furniture to protect their homes and businesses.

The demonstrations in major cities come a day after the Egyptian president fired his cabinet and promised unspecified economic and political reforms.

Not far from Cairo's central square, the army sealed off the street leading to the parliament and cabinet buildings.

Dozens of tanks and armoured personnel carriers were fanned out across the city. Military officials had earlier urged citizens not to congregate in the streets and to observe the 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew, warning that anyone who violated it would be in danger, state television said. 

Firas Al-Atraqchi, a professor with the American University of Cairo who is currently in Toronto, said his family in Egypt and in Canada have warned him not to return.

"A colleague of mine who lives in my neighbourhood told me the military had been there to ward off gangs," Al-Atraqchi told CBC News on Saturday.

Mubarak refuses to resign

The 82-year-old Mubarak named his intelligence chief and close confidant Omar Suleiman as his vice-president and former air force commander Ahmad Shafiq as Egypt's new prime minister, in an apparent step toward setting up a successor other than his son, Gamal.


Reporter Nahlah Ayed:

"People are convinced [Mubarak] doesn't understand what they want, and that is why they are back today. They're from all walks of life, but are mostly young people because that is the generation here, the largest group, who are frustrated. But there are also women, children, older men and women. This is a big cross-section of Egyptian society."

Protester Mohamed AbdelFattah, talking to CBC from the northern city of Alexandria:

"I guess Hosni Mubarak is in his last hours now and he should start packing his luggage and leaving the country as soon as he can. [Protesters] are chanting, 'The army and the people don't want Mubarak. The army and the people are hand in hand together.'"

The president addressed the nation late Friday, as protesters — eager to end his 30-year rule — overwhelmed police forces in Cairo and other cities around the nation with their numbers and in attacks with rocks and firebombs.

Mubarak said he would not resign, but instead announced he had fired his entire cabinet. He promised to name a new cabinet on Saturday. The president blamed protesters for abusing the freedoms he said he'd given them, adding they were plotting to destabilize Egypt.

Demonstrators who ignored the curfew in Cairo set police cars and army vehicles on fire Friday night. Some paraded through the streets wearing helmets nabbed from police officers.

Mubarak is clinging to power after nearly a week of anti-government protests that have left a trail of wreckage across Cairo.

The sight of protesters pouring into central Cairo for a fifth day indicated Mubarak's speech did little to cool the anger over Egypt's crushing poverty, unemployment and corruption.

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

The Egyptian military also closed tourist access to the pyramids. Government figures show that tourism accounts for over 11 per cent of the country's GDP and provides roughly one in eight jobs.

Canadians are being warned to avoid Egypt's major cities unless it is absolutely necessary. The Department of Foreign Affairs said Canadians should not travel to Cairo, Alexandria or Suez.

The federal government also said Canadians currently in Egypt should avoid demonstrations and large gatherings. There are an estimated 6,500 Canadians in Egypt and all are believed to be safe.

Cellphone services in Egypt were restored Saturday after a government-ordered communications blackout was imposed in "selected areas" on Friday in an apparent bid to stop protesters from co-ordinating demonstrations. However, internet service appeared to remain blocked.

With files from The Associated Press