Egyptians scorn ban on protests

Anti-government rioting in Egypt continued Wednesday, the second straight day of protests despite a newly introduced ban on public demonstrations and organized marches.

Access to Facebook, Twitter shut down at least temporarily

Anti-government rioting in Egypt continued Wednesday, the second straight day of protests despite a newly introduced ban on public demonstrations and organized marches.

Late in the day, police charged roughly 2,000 people as they marched down a major Cairo street along the Nile River.

At least 5,000 protesters took to the streets of Cairo earlier in the day to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak's rule. They burned tires, and chanted: "Down with Mubarak, down!" and "We demand change, freedom and social justice!"

Police responded with beatings, tear gas and water cannons.

The death toll from the clashes rose to six, after a protester and a policeman died Wednesday. An Egyptian official said the two died after they were hit by a car during a demonstration in a poor region of Cairo. Four people died on Tuesday.


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Egypt's Ministry of Interior Affairs said it would no longer allow "provocative movements, or protest gatherings, or organizing marches or demonstrations."

"Immediate legal procedures will be taken and participants will be handed over to investigating authorities," Reuters reported, citing a story by state news agency MENA.

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Wednesday that Canada called on all parties to remain calm, and continue to respect freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Canada also called on the government of Egypt to unblock internet sites.

"We urge all parties to refrain from using violence and the Egyptian authorities to respond to these protests peacefully," Cannon's office said. "Egypt remains an important partner for Canada, and we urge the government to ensure full freedom of political expression for Egyptians and free, fair, and open democratic presidential elections."

The United States denounced the ban on protests, saying it expected "the Egyptian authorities to respond to any protests peacefully."

"We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly," the White House said in a statement.

Reports surfaced later Wednesday that Egyptian authorities had shut down access to Facebook and Twitter, at least temporarily. Many protesters said they were invited to participate in the demonstrations via Facebook.

Protesters detained in Cairo, Alexandria

Authorities detained at least 860 people on Tuesday and Wednesday, officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Of those, nearly 600 were detained in Cairo, primarily in Tahrir Square. The remainder were arrested in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria and elsewhere.

From the streets of Egypt

Freelance journalist Mohamed Abdelfattah said Tuesday's protests in Alexandria, in northern Egypt, began with an invitation on Facebook to about 400,000 followers:

"It started as a handful of political activists from various political trends who started marching carrying Egyptian flags through neighbourhoods in eastern Alexandria.

"[It] continued to gain momentum for the following two to three hours until we had a massive scene … [like] I have never witnessed.

"[It] continued until 7 p.m. when … the number was at least from 10,000 to 15,000 people from all walks of life."

Click here to watch Mohamed Abdelfattah's interview with CBC News.

An estimated 20,000 demonstrators took part in the protests, which began peacefully but escalated into violence. Riot police used water cannons and tear gas to scatter the crowds. Four people were killed, including one policeman.

Protester and freelance journalist Mohamed Abdelfattah said he and 64 others were detained in an underground cell in Alexandria, in northern Egypt, for seven hours Tuesday night "with no charges at all."

"The government is trying to spread fear among the population," Abdelfattah told CBC News. "But I don't think this will work because the high dam of fear has already collapsed and the water is flooding massively.

"People have broken the fear already," he said, adding he would continue to protest despite the ban.

Protesters are also demanding an end to Egypt's grinding poverty, corruption, unemployment and police abuses.

Violent protests like this one are rare in Egypt, where discontent with life in the autocratic, police state has simmered under the surface for years.

It is the example of Tunisia, though, that appeared to be enough to push many young Egyptians into the streets for the first time.

Anti-government protesters demonstrate near riot police at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. (Amr Dalsh/Reuters)

On Jan. 14, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted after 23 years in power and a month of street protests against years of repression, corruption and a lack of jobs brought down Ben Ali.

"We couldn't believe what was going on," Abdelfattah said, of the mood of Egypt's protesters.

"We share a lot of cultural misconceptions here that the Egyptian people are apathetic to politics, [that] the Egyptian people are afraid of government.

"But all of this was destroyed yesterday. It was history in the making."

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With files from The Associated Press