Egypt is bracing itself for what could be a black Friday of violence in the streets with the opposition to President Hosni Mubarak promising its biggest show of strength yet.
Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon soon after the end of Friday prayers in several cities across the country including Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Mansoura. Some protesters responded by throwing rocks back.
Thousands of people have descended on central Cairo, chanting slogans such as “Down, down, Hosni Mubarak.” Some reports put the number of demonstrators in the tens of thousands, which would be unprecedented in Mubarak’s 30 years in power. Protests were being held across the city, including near one of Mubarak’s presidential residences.
The authorities tried to pre-empt things by swooping overnight on the biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting 20 officials including five former MPs and five leaders.
Until now the Brotherhood was quiet, but now it says it will demonstrate today. “It will continue, until the regime responds to the real demands being made. They cannot save the situation with just some window-dressing,” said spokesman Essam al-Arian.
Thursday saw the seventh death during this week of unrest as a man was shot in Sinai during a demonstration. The unrest has spread and is no longer confined to Cairo, with Suez also the scene of violent clashes yesterday. Over 1,000 people have now been arrested.
The demonstrators are also becoming bolder. In Suez a police station came under attack and was severely damaged by fire.