Anti-Government Protests Escalate In Egypt

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In Egypt on Friday, anti-government demonstrations turned violent and protesters stepped up their calls for President Hosni Mubarak to step down.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

(Soundbite of sirens)

(Soundbite of protest)

NORRIS: Today in Egypt, a fourth day of demonstrations and the largest ever seen in the nearly 30 years of President Hosni Mubarak's rule. There were peaceful protests, as well as scenes of chaos and violence. Hundreds are reported injured and there are unconfirmed reports of deaths. Thousands are demanding the resignation of President Mubarak.

BLOCK: Protestors remained in the streets, despite a countrywide curfew announced on state television this evening. Clashes between protestors and riot police began at midday just after Friday prayers. This was the scene in central Cairo, recorded by the BBC.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible) Down with Mubarak.

NORRIS: One of the chants - down with Mubarak. Protestors threw rocks, tried to storm government buildings and they set fire to the Cairo headquarters of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party. Police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets on the protestors.

BLOCK: This evening, army convoys drove into the streets to some cheers from protestors. They expressed a hope that the army, unlike the police, might be on their side. Just after midnight Cairo time, President Mubarak appeared on television with his first remarks since the protests began. He said problems must be solved through dialogue, not violence. And he made this announcement, heard here through an interpreter.

President HOSNI MUBARAK (Egypt): (through translator) I have requested the government to step down today and I will designate a new government as of tomorrow, to assume new duties and to account for the priorities of the upcoming era.

BLOCK: Mubarak added that he would take steps to maintain the safety and security of Egypt and its people.

Pres. MUBARAK: (through translator) I have a firm belief and conviction that we will continue our political, economical, and social reforms for a free and democratic Egyptian society, embracing the modern principles and opening to the world.

BLOCK: That's Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, speaking through an interpreter on television. Shortly after that address, President Obama spoke briefly from the White House. He called on Egyptian authorities to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters and to stop their disruption of Internet and cell phone service. He also told protesters that they have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully.

President BARACK OBAMA: Now, going forward, this moment of volatility has to be turned into a moment of promise. The United States has a close partnership with Egypt and we've cooperated on many issues, including working together to advance a more peaceful region. But we've also been clear that there must be reform political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

BLOCK: President Obama said he'd spoken with President Mubarak and told him that he must deliver on his promises of greater democracy and economic opportunities.

Pres. OBAMA: What's needed right now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people, a meaningful dialogue between the government and its citizens, and a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people.

Now, ultimately, the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people. And I believe the Egyptian people want the same things that we all want a better life for ourselves and our children and a government that is fair and just and responsive. Put simply, the Egyptian people want a future that befits the heirs to a great and ancient civilization.

BLOCK: President Obama speaking at the White House this evening.

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