Thousands of protesters returned to the streets of central Cairo on Saturday morning to demand that President Hosni Mubarak leave power on the fifth consecutive day of civil revolt that has rocked the country to the core and left dozens dead and hundreds injured.
Pan-Arab Al Jazeera reported that about 50,000 protesters had gathered in at Tahrir Square, in the heart of Cairo.
Protests were not as big as Friday’s, but they were growing more vigorous. Angry crowds were chanting, “Down, down with Mubarak!” and “Mr. Mubarak, wake up -- today is your final day in power!”
The Associated Press is reporting that police have opened fire on a massive crowd of protesters in downtown Cairo, killing at least one demonstrator. Thousands of protesters are trying to storm the Interior Ministry located in the heart of the city. It was not immediately clear whether the riot police were shooting live ammunition or rubber bullets.
Tanks were also in position at Tahrir Square, raising questions about how the military would respond. The army’s lower-ranking officers come from the nation’s heartland and feel a bond with the people, but higher up the chain of command the officers’ loyalty is to the president.
However, the military in general has grown disillusioned with the liberal economic reforms and their effect on the Egyptian people.
State television announced that Mubarak’s Cabinet had tendered its resignation. Mubarak sought in an early morning televised address to deflect blame for the nation’s rising anger by announcing that he would form a new government. But few believed that the ploy would calm streets that have erupted in unprecedented anger and violence.
At least 38 people have died in the unrest, including 10 members of security forces, state-run TV reported.
“Mubarak, out!” the demonstrators chanted, according to Agence France-Presse.
Lina Wardani, a reporter at Egypt’s Ahram newspaper, described the usually bustling Tahrir Square located in the heart of Cairo as a war zone with the headquarters of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party torched and plumes of smoke still billowing from it.
“I was there at 8:30 in the morning. Everything was burnt and the NDP building is still in flames,” she said in a conversation over her cell phone. Service suspended to halt protesters from communicating had been partially restored, state television said.
“There are so many burnt cars,” she said. “Both police and military vehicles. ... It says ‘down with Mubarak’ on army vehicles. People have sprayed it everywhere.”
Also Saturday, the Associated Press reported that the Egyptian military had closed tourist access to the pyramids. Tanks and armored personnel carriers sealed off the site on the Giza Plateau, which is normally packed with tourists.
State television reported that the army announced a drastic 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew in an effort to clear city streets.
The army, which has largely taken over the streets of the capital, the second-largest city of Alexandria and the port city of Suez, pleaded with the public to abide by the curfew and avoid gathering on the streets, Egyptian state-owned Nile News TV reported.
Upon hearing of the curfew, one woman in Tahrir Square said: “I don’t think Egyptians understand the meaning of the word curfew.”
Many predicted the unrest would continue until Mubarak resigned and left the country, as did Tunisian strongman Zine el-Abidine ben Ali following weeks of street protests. The Tunisian uprising has inspired calls for change throughout the Arab world.
“I expect it’s over,” Wardani said. “He’s going to go. ... No one wants to change the government. People don’t want Mubarak. He is the problem -- not the government. This is exactly what demonstrators have called for. No one cares if they go to jail or if they don’t go to work. People don’t care anymore. They just want him gone. And he still doesn’t get it.”
Sandels is a special correspondent. Borzou Daragahi in Tunis, Tunisia, also contributed to this report.