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Egypt in crisis, Mubarak meets commanders

Mubarak meets high command; Interior Ministry guarded by army armoured vehicles; Heavy military presence replaces police; Vigilantes protect Cairo buildings from mobs of looters.

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January 30, 2011 3:07 by



President Hosni Mubarak, clinging to power despite unprecedented demands for an end to his 30-year rule, met on Sunday with the powerful military which is widely seen as holding the key to Egypt’s future.

Mubarak held talks with Vice President Omar Suleiman, whose appointment on Saturday has possibly set the scene for a transition in power, Defence Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Chief of Staff Sami al-Anan and other senior commanders.

An earthquake of unrest is shaking Mubarak’s authoritarian grip on power and the high command’s support is vital as other pillars of his ruling apparatus crumble, analysts said.

Egyptians faced lawlessness on their streets on Sunday with security forces and ordinary people trying to stop looters after five days of popular protest.

Through the night, Cairo residents armed with clubs, chains and knives formed vigilante groups to guard neighbourhoods from marauders after the unpopular police force withdrew following clashes with protesters that left more than 100 dead.

The capital’s streets were mostly deserted, with the army guarding the Interior Ministry, and citizens putting their trust in the military, hoping they would restore order but not open fire to keep key U.S. ally Mubarak, 82, in power.

Amidst a heavy military presence, up to 4,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square, which has become a rallying point to express anger at poverty, repression and corruption in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

“Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, both of you are agents of the Americans,” shouted protesters, referring to the appointment of intelligence chief Suleiman as vice president, the first time Mubarak has appointed a deputy in 30 years of office.

It was the position Mubarak held before he become president and many saw the appointment as ending his son Gamal’s long-predicted ambitions to take over.

“Mubarak, Mubarak, the plane awaits,” demonstrators said.

Sunday is normally a working day in Egypt but banks and financial markets were shut. The bourse and the central bank said they would stay closed on Monday.

The unprecedented turmoil has sent shock waves through the Middle East, where other autocratic rulers may face similar challenges, and unsettled financial markets around the globe.



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