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Egyptian protesters defy curfew as Mubarak appoints first vice president

Thousands of protesters continued to roam the streets in Cairo and Alexandria Saturday after a government-imposed curfew started. President Hosni Mubarak appointed a vice president, the first in his 30 years of rule.

protesters in Egypt

Thousands of protesters marched to central Cairo on Saturday

Anti-government protests in Egypt continued on Saturday as thousands of protesters gathered in central Cairo, defying a government curfew that started at 4 pm local time.

Demonstrators poured into the central Tahrir square demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Similar crowds are reported to be gathering in the cities of Suez and Alexandria.

"Mubarak, out!" the protesters chanted, as army tanks were stationed around the Cairo square.

Protesters have overwhelmed the police forces in parts of Cairo and other cities around Egypt, and overnight the army replaced the police in guarding government buildings and other key areas.

Leading dissident opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei told France 24 television channel on Saturday that Mubarak "must go."

Government reshuffle

Meanwhile on Saturday, Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for three decades with no deputy leader, appointed his first vice president. State television showed intelligence chief and Mubarak confidant Omar Suleiman being sworn into office.

Suleiman's new appointment is being seen by many as a possible step by Mubarak to establishing a successor in the wake of the protests.

soldiers in central Cairo

The army has not intervened in protests

The appointment came after Mubarak appeared on television overnight to announce that the government had been sacked and promising economic and political reforms. But the president refused angry calls shouted by large crowds across Egypt to step down.

"I will not shy away from taking any decision that maintains the security of every Egyptian," Mubarak said.

In a televised address - his first public comments since the protests began on Tuesday - he also accused the protesters of destabilizing the country.

The outgoing cabinet formally submitted its resignation at a meeting on Saturday and a new government is expected to be formed swiftly.

Late Saturday afternoon, Mubarak appointed aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq to the post of prime minister, according to the AFP news agency.

World response

Throughout Saturday, leaders from around the world have been weighing in on the Egyptian situation.

Smoke billowing from a building

Smoke billows from a building after protesters clashed with police overnight.

European Union head Herman Van Rompuy called for an end to bloodshed, saying he was "deeply troubled" by the spiral of violence.

"The respect for fundamental human rights, such as the freedom of expression, the right to communicate, and the right of free assembly, as well as social inclusion are constituent elements of democracy which the Egyptian people, and in particular the young, are striving for," the EU president said in a statement.

"I therefore call for the cessation of violence to stop bloodshed, the release of all those arrested or under house arrest for political reasons, including political figures, and to set the necessary reform process in motion."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on Mubarak to implement the reforms he had promised in his televised speech, adding that leaders and security forces must be "conscious of their responsibilities so that the situation does not escalate further."

From the UK, British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for Mubarak to listen "urgently" to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

"We remain deeply concerned about the level of violence we have witnessed over the past few days," Hague said in a statement. "We call on the government to exercise restraint and on the Egyptian people to pursue their legitimate grievances peacefully.

Russia called on Egyptian authorities on Saturday to secure "civil peace" and re-establish stability.

President Hosni Mubarak

The pressure is growing on President Hosni Mubarak

"The Egyptian leadership and all of society (should) display a high degree of national responsibility and do everything necessary to stabilize the situation and guarantee civil peace," a statement quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as telling his Egyptian counterpart by telephone.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has phoned President Mubarak expressing support for him, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said on Saturday.

"No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred," SPA quoted King Abdullah as saying.

Rising death toll, chaotic scenes

The unprecedented protests against Mubarak's 30-year rule have left scores dead. Workers at the Alexandria morgue said they had counted more than 20 bodies from the last 24 hours of violence. Hundreds of people have been injured.

The overall death toll remains unclear. Official sources say 38 people have died and over 2,000 have been injured, but Qatar-based Arab news channel Al Jazeera puts the overall death toll at 95.

Mobile phone services have been partially restored in Egypt after a government-ordered communications blackout. Protesters have been using text messaging and social networking websites to coordinate demonstrations.

The escalating violence has caused chaos, with reports of widespread vandalism and looting. Several shops and ATM machines were reportedly destroyed and robbed on Friday.

Khaled Sirry Siam, the head of the Egyptian Stock Exchange in Cairo said the exchange will not open on Sunday. The Egyptian Central Bank will also remain closed. Sunday is the first working day in the week in Egypt.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg, David Levitz (Reuters, AP, AFP)
Editor: Kyle James

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