Egypt cuts Internet, deploys riot police

Egyptians woke Friday morning to find their Internet access shut down in much of the country and to the sight of heavy deployments of black-clad, truncheon-wielding riot police, as the country braced for massive anti-government protests on a scale unseen in decades.

Opposition activists said the popular turnout on this traditional day of prayer and rest could prove to be decisive in determining whether the historic four-day-old protest movement gains momentum in its calls for the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, or fizzles beneath the weight of a violent government crackdown.

At least five people have died in the unrest so far, news agencies reported. The latest death came late on Thursday, according to the Associated Press, when security forces shot dead a protester in the northern Sinai peninsula, the latest indication that the unrest was spreading to more isolated parts of Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest and most organized opposition movement, endorsed Friday’s demonstrations in a statement on its website on the eve of Friday’s planned demonstrations.

“The group will participate in the demonstration scheduled in order to achieve popular demands,” the Brotherhood said in the statement.

That marks a shift by the group, which analysts say can mobilize millions of supporters, but until now had held back from throwing its full organizational weight behind the protests.

Meanwhile, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and prodemocracy figure Mohamed ElBaradei returned to Egypt on Thursday evening in order to take part in the protests. He is seen as one of the few secular, liberal figures with the status to challenge the establishment.

On the eve of Friday’s anticipated demonstrations, state-run media appeared to shift tone from downplaying the street protests to issuing stark and graphic warnings that violence and chaos were likely to ensue. Analysts said it appeared an attempt by the regime to scare off citizens, many of whom appear to be taking to the streets in protest for the first time in their lives.

An independent Egyptian newspaper published on its website Thursday evening tips for first time protesters on how to stay safe in a demonstration. It counseled demonstrators to pack a wet towel in case of tear gas and urged girls to tie hair in a bun so that it can’t be grabbed by riot police.

The government also has taken unprecedented steps to limit protesters’ ability to move around and communicate, closing the city’s subway system and shutting down the internet and cellphone text-messaging services throughout much of the country.

Early Friday morning, the U.S., which has taken a more strident tone in support of the demonstrators in recent days, denounced the clampdown. Fittingly, it did so via Twitter, the online social-networking site that has played a key role in coordinating and sustaining the unrest that is sweeping the Arab world.

“We are concerned the communication services, including the internet, social media and even this tweet are being blocked in Egypt,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley tweeted at 5:30 a.m. Egyptian time.

Underscoring the widespread fears of unrest, the Egyptian Football Federation announced on Thursday that it was postponing all matches scheduled for Friday and Saturday, citing security reasons.

Source: Wall Street journal

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