29 Jan 2011

Egyptian leader appoints new cabinet as protests continue

11:49 pm on 29 January 2011

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is due to appoint a new government after firing his previous administration amid a wave of deadly protests against his rule.

On Friday tens of thousands of people demonstrated on the streets of Cairo, Suez, Alexandria and other cities. The protests continued into the night, defying a curfew.

At least 18 people were reported killed in clashes with security forces on Friday, bringing the death toll to 26, with more than 1000 injured in the capital.

But a source has told the Reuters news agency 30 bodies have been taken to Cairo's El Damardsh Hospital from the latest day of protests, including two children.

An Al Jazeera reporter has also seen at least 20 bodies on the streets of Alexandria and medical sources have told Reuters at least 13 people have been killed in Suez.

The BBC reports protests are continuing in central Cairo, and shots have been heard.

Mobile phone services have been restored in the capital, but the internet remains down.

Mubarak refuses to step down

Mr Mubarak is clinging to power despite the protesters' demands that he quit.

He made his first public statement since the protests began late on Friday night, announcing the sacking of his government after a day in which tanks were deployed on the streets and buildings went up in flames in Cairo.

The ruling party's headquarters were still burning on Saturday morning and demonstrators were still out in the streets in the early hours in defiance of a curfew, amid ransacked shops and burnt-out buildings.

In a dramatic televised address, the president defended the role of the security forces in dealing with the protests.

Mr Mubarak said problems should not be dealt with through violence or chaos.

Fine line between freedom and chaos

The president made it clear he had no intention to resign over the protests.

There will be new steps towards democracy and freedoms and new steps to face unemployment and increase the standard of living and services, and there will be new steps to help the poor and those with limited income, he said.

There is a fine line between freedom and chaos and I lean towards freedom for the people in expressing their opinions as much as I hold on to the need to maintain Egypt's safety and stability, Mubarak said.

But the BBC reports that his comments will probably provoke further unrest.

United States president Barack Obama has called on the Egyptian security forces to refrain from any violence against the protestors.

In a televised address, Mr Obama said the protestors had the freedom to demonstrate peacefully, and called on Mr Mubarak to advance the rights of Egyptians.

NZ embassy in Cairo closed

The New Zealand embassy in Cairo is closed due to the unrest.

There are no reports of New Zealanders caught up in the protests, however internet and cellphone links are down, so communication is limited.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says 266 New Zealanders are registered as being in Egypt but there are likely to be more, as not everybody registers.

The ministry is advising against all tourist and non-essential travel to Egypt.

It says all New Zealanders there should monitor local media and adhere to curfews.

Protestors ignore curfews

Tens of thousands took part in protests in Cairo, Suez, Alexandria and other cities on Friday.

Protesters set fire to the headquarters of the governing NDP party and besieged state TV and the foreign ministry.

At least 13 people were killed in Suez on Friday and five in Cairo.

Earlier, the president ordered troops and tanks into major cities in an attempt to quell street fighting and growing mass protests demanding an end to his 30 years in power.

Security forces used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds.

Meanwhile, the army has taken control of Tahrir Square in central Cairo, which was the focus for protesters trying to force their way to parliament.

More than 20 tanks and other military vehicles moved into the square shortly after midnight.

Markets fall

Mr Mubarak, 82, has been in office since 1981. The Egyptian government tolerates little dissent and demonstrations are outlawed.

The unrest has raised fears of instability in other Middle Eastern countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. Stocks have fallen on global financial markets and crude oil prices are rising.