Police fought with thousands of Egyptians who defied a government ban yesterday to protest against President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old rule, firing tear gas at the crowds and dragging away demonstrators.
Protesters burned tires and hurled stones at police as groups gathered at different parts of the capital Cairo.
The scenes were unprecedented in the country, one of the United States’ closest Middle East allies, and follow the overthrow two weeks ago of another long-serving Arab strongman, Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in a popular revolt.
Activists had called on people to rally again after a “Day of Wrath” on Tuesday of anti-government demonstrations across Egypt in which three protesters and one policeman were killed.
Security forces have arrested about 500 demonstrators over the two days, an Interior Ministry source said. Witnesses said officers, some in civilian clothes, hauled away people and bundled them into unmarked vans.
Police fired shots into the air near the central Cairo court complex, witnesses said. In another area, they drove riot trucks into a crowd of about 3,000 people to force them to disperse.
The coordinated protests were unlike anything witnessed in Egypt since Mubarak came to power in 1981 after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamists.
Social networking sites have been a key means of communication for the protesters. Egyptians complained Facebook and Twitter were blocked, though the government denied it.
The United States said Egypt was still a “close and important ally.” But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the government to allow peaceful protests and not to block the sites.
Demands posted on Facebook included the resignation of Mubarak and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, the dissolution of parliament and formation of a national unity government.