Hague calls on Egypt to reform as bloody violence grips cities

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FOREIGN Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Egyptian government to heed demands for reform as a fourth day of demonstrations calling for the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule descended into bloody violence.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators were involved in clashes with riot police in Cairo where the military took to the streets and the authoritarian president imposed a 13-hour night-time curfew nationwide after unrest spread.

Security officials said there were protests in at least 11 of Egypt’s 28 provinces. Pro-reform leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei was placed under house arrest after returning to the country to join the dissidents.

The Egyptian crisis is the bloodiest of several outbreaks of anti-government unrest in the Middle East. Thousands attended demonstrations in Jordan yesterday, following recent protests in Tunisia and Yemen.

Mr Hague said it was “impossible to predict what the outcome will be of a long period of disorder, of violence or attempted revolution”.

“That is why I think the sensible advice to give, whether it is to Egypt or sensible advice at an earlier stage to what was the government of Tunisia, is to understand the grievances and deal with them in an evolutionary way and by bringing necessary reforms,” he added.

“The right response of countries concerned with the situation, not just Egypt, is to respond to the legitimate demands of economic development and a more open and flexible political system.”

Mr Hague said the Egyptian authorities were well aware of the British Government’s view that reform was needed. He added that he was “not sure” of the whereabouts of Mr ElBaradei.

Mrs Clinton called on Mr Mubarak’s government to respect the rights of the country’s citizens and deliver the political and economic reform they demanded. She urged calm on both sides and said the government must investigate and prosecute any allegations of brutality by security forces and called on Egypt to restore access to the internet and social media sites, which have been blocked.

Parts of the ruling party’s headquarters in Cairo were in flames last night, while in other cities, tyres and police cars were set alight.

In one of many astonishing scenes yesterday, thousands of anti-government protesters wielding rocks, glass and sticks chased hundreds of riot police away from the main square in Cairo and several officers stripped off their uniforms and badges and joined demonstrators. The military moved in last night to deal with thousands defying the curfew.

Some of the most serious violence was in Suez, where protesters seized weapons stored in a police station and asked the policemen inside to leave the building before they burned it down.

Demonstrators exchanged fire with policemen trying to stop them from storming another police station and one protester was killed in the gun battle.

Cairo protester Ahmad Salah, 26, said: “I can’t believe our own police, our own government would keep beating up on us like this. I’ve been here for hours and gassed and keep going forward, and they keep gassing us, and I will keep going forward.

“This is a cowardly government and it has to fall. We’re going to make sure of it.”

Mr Mubarak has not been seen publicly since the unrest began on Tuesday and has offered no sign of concessions to protesters who want a solution to rising food prices, unemployment and poverty which affects almost half the country’s population.

In Jordan, similar economic problems drove about 3,500 activists to gather in the capital, Amman, and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai.

Many were shouting: “Rifai go away, prices are on fire and so are the Jordanians.”