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Mubarak names VP, new PM as deadly protests continue

30 stycznia, 2011

Embattled Hosni Mubarak tapped Egypt\'s military intelligence chief as his first-ever vice president and named a new prime minister on Saturday, as a mass revolt against his autocratic rule raged into a fifth day.

Fresh riots in several cities left three protesters dead in Cairo and three police in the Sinai town of Rafah -- bringing to at least 92 the number of people killed since the unrest flared up on Tuesday, including 23 on Saturday, according to medics.

As tens of thousands flooded central Cairo demanding Mubarak\'s ouster, the president went into crisis talks with officials late Saturday afternoon , after which it was announced that career army man and Mubarak confidante General Omar Suleiman had been sworn in as his deputy.

Suleiman, 75, is chief of military intelligence and has spearheaded years of Egyptian efforts to encourage an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and of mediating internal Palestinian disputes.

Demonstrators have dismissed the 82-year-old president\'s vague promises of political and economic reform as too little, too late and were not impressed with Suleiman\'s appointment.

Osama, a protester in central Cairo, told AFP: "It\'s not a good choice; he is Mubarak\'s man. It\'s not a sign of change."

The crowd in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the revolt in the capital, chanted "Neither Mubarak nor Suleiman; we\'re sick of Americans."

Following Mubarak\'s instructions, the cabinet resigned on Saturday, and the president later tapped the current aviation minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to form a new government.

Shafiq, 69, is respected by the Egyptian elite, even among the opposition, and has often been mooted as a potential successor to Mubarak.

But Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN chief nuclear inspector who had emerged as a dissident leader in his homeland, said the appointments were insufficient.

"I tell President Mubarak and his regime to leave Egypt as soon as possible. It will be better for Egypt and for you," he said in remarks to Al-Jazeera television.

Egyptians were watching to see if widely hated Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, in office since 1997 and responsible for the security apparatus, will keep his job.

Along with the demonstrations, looting broke out in the capital after the police appeared to have faded from the scene, prompting the army to call on citizens to defend themselves.

The army announced that a night-time curfew would be enforced and extended in key cities. But when the new 4:00 pm to 8:00 am lockdown went into effect, demonstrators in Cairo paid no heed.

Later, the army stood back as protesters fought running battles with police in front of the interior ministry.

Hundreds of demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails at police near the epicentre of five days of protests, who responded with gunfire, which witnesses said were live rounds. Medics said three people were killed.

As Mubarak stood his ground, influential Arab cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi called on him to quit, telling Al-Jazeera he should "leave Egypt," as the "only solution to the problem."

"Leave Mubarak. Have pity on the people and get lost before the destruction spreads in Egypt," said the Egyptian-born president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, who called Mubarak "deaf, dumb and blind."

And the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt\'s best-organised opposition group, called for a peaceful transfer of power through a transitional cabinet.

Protesters want not only Mubarak\'s departure but an end to endemic corruption and police brutality that have become systemic under the president\'s 30-year rule.

Earlier on Saturday, young Egyptians had already formed a human chain to protect the Cairo Museum, which is located in Tahrir Square and which houses the famous Tutankhamun mask and other priceless antiquities.

Elsewhere, clashes erupted in the key port city of Ismailiya, northeast of Cairo, where thousands of workers fought running battles with police.

In Alexandria, hundreds of people camped out by the main mosque in the centre of the Mediterranean city vowing to protest again, with several police stations still burning amid sporadic looting.

As in Cairo, tanks were deployed and the police were absent. Civilians directed traffic and conducted clean-up efforts.

Despite the ongoing protests, two Cairo mobile phone networks came back on line on Saturday, a day after all Egyptian operators were told to cut services.

But Internet access appeared still to be cut by late afternoon.

US President Barack Obama called on the Egyptian authorities not to use violence against the political protests, driving home his message in a 30-minute phone conversation after a late-night speech by Mubarak.

He urged Mubarak to take "concrete" steps towards political reforms, saying he must turn "a moment of volatility" into "a moment of promise."

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top US officials met at the White House for two hours to take stock of developments.

"With protesters still on the streets of Egypt, we remain concerned about the potential for violence and again urge restraint on all sides," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley wrote on Twitter.

"The people of Egypt no longer accept the status quo. They are looking to their government for a meaningful process to foster real reform," he wrote in a second message on the micro-blogging service.

Egypt -- a key Middle Eastern ally for Washington -- is one of the largest recipients of US aid, receiving $1.3 billion annually in military assistance alone.

The demonstrations, inspired by events in Tunisia, are the largest in Egypt in the three decades of Mubarak\'s rule, sending shock waves across the region.

At least 1,500 civilians and 1,000 police have been injured since Tuesday.

Overseas, travel agencies postponed departures for popular tourist destination, as capitals warned their citizens to avoid visiting Egypt, which counts on tourism as a prime source of foreign exchange.

On Saturday, the Saudi stock market, the Arab world\'s largest, dropped 6.43 percent on the soaring tensions.

And the Cairo bourse, which was due to start a new week of trading on Sunday after losing at least 10 percent this past week, said it will remain closed for the day along with the nation\'s banks.