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Mubarak under mounting pressure as Egypt protests continue

Western leaders have urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to avoid violence and enact reforms as anti-government protests continue for a sixth straight day.

Egyptian protesters are gathered outside the Egyptian Museum during demonstrations

Egyptian protesters refused to observe the government's curfew

Anti-government protests entered a sixth day in Egypt as embattled President Hosni Mubarak struggled to maintain power in the face of mounting pressure.

Crowds began massing in several cities amid a heavy military presence though the soldiers did not seem to intervene.

Meanwhile, Egypt ordered the closure of the Arab television channel, Al Jazeera. The pan-Arab station had given blanket coverage to the ongoing anti-government protests.

Reacting to the news, a spokesman for Al Jazeera said the move was an effort to "stifle and repress" its reporting.

Meanwhile, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said 34 of its members escaped from jail, including seven from its leadership, after relatives overpowered prison guards at the Wadi Natrun correctional facility northwest of Cairo. The prison holds many Islamist political prisoners and hardened criminals.

At another jail in the capital, dozens of bodies were discovered lying on a road outside Abu Zaabal prison. Eyewitnesses said heavy gunfire was heard overnight at the prison.

Mubarak on Saturday forced his cabinet's resignation and named a new prime minister and his first-ever vice president. He appointed intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his deputy and former civil aviation minister Ahmed Shafik as prime minister.

But the reshuffle has so far failed to satisfy protesters, who continue to demand that the president end his 30-year rule over the country.

International pressure

Meanwhile, the international community has increased pressure on Mubarak to deliver on his promises for reform.

An anti-government protester tears a picture of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

Protesters said they would stay in the streets until Mubarak stepped down

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a joint statement late Saturday urging Mubarak to avoid violence "at all costs.”

"We call on President Mubarak to avoid at all costs the use of violence against unarmed civilians, and on the demonstrators to exercise their rights peacefully," said the statement.

"We urge President Mubarak to embark on a process of transformation which should be reflected in a broad-based government and in free and fair elections."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also threatened Saturday to reduce aid to Egypt if authorities did not ease off a crackdown against demonstrators.

Egypt is one of the largest recipients of German development aid, according to the foreign ministry website, with some 5.5 billion euros ($7.5 billion) sent to Egypt since the 1960s and more than 200 million euros pledged last June for the next two years.

"Our appeal to the Egyptian government is clear: abandon all forms of violence and (support) the right to demonstrate," Westerwelle said. "Germany stands on the side of freedom of expression and democracy."

An Egyptian army soldier stands guard near antiquities of the Egyptian museum in Cairo

Looters smashed several statues and damaged two mummies at the Cairo museum

US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley also expressed harsh criticism in his Twitter feed Saturday, writing "The Egyptian government can't reshuffle the deck and then stand pat."

Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who returned Thursday to Cairo from Vienna, strengthened his call for Mubarak to go.

"I respect Omar Suleiman and Ahmed Shafik, but we want an end to this Pharaonic regime," the would-be opposition leader told broadcaster Al Jazeera.

"Down with Mubarak"

Witnesses in Cairo said Saturday that soldiers maintained a non-aggressive posture as they kept watch over large crowds of up to 50,000 protesters, who showed open hostility towards police.

Omar Suleiman

Mubarak confidant Omar Suleiman was sworn in as vice president

Protesters could be seen standing atop tanks, taking pictures with the soldiers. Many were jubilant, pumping their fists, waving the Egyptian flag, singing.

One tank was sprayed with the slogan, "Down with Mubarak," while protesters carried banners that said "The people have spoken."

City scarred by looting and lawlessness

At least 22 people died in riots on Saturday in the town of Beni Sueif, south of Cairo, where protesters tried to burn down a police station. Another three protesters died in the capital and three policemen were killed in the Sinai town of Rafah, raising the death toll to at least 102 since the anti-government demonstrations erupted last Tuesday. Thousands more have been injured.

Social order disintegrated in Cairo Saturday as police withdrew from the streets when the army took over security for the city. Witnesses reported mobs storming supermarkets, commercial centers, banks, private property and government buildings in Cairo and elsewhere.

Egyptians have called for army intervention to bring back law and order. On Saturday, many protesters chanted "No to plundering and no to destruction."

Civilians armed with sticks and razors - and sometimes guns - have formed vigilante groups to defend their homes from looters in both poor and wealthy parts of the city.

Author: David Levitz, Gregg Benzow (AFP, Reuters)

Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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