Communication lockdown ahead of Egypt’s Friday protests

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CAIRO: Mobile phone services, internet and practically all modes of communication were blocked to Egyptians on Friday morning as the Egyptian government took unprecedented measures to nip planned protests after Friday prayers in the bud.

Starting midnight on Wednesday, short text message services and Blackberry messenger (BBM) were no longer available to subscribers of the three mobile phone networks, Mobinil, Vodafone and Etisalat.

Since massive protests broke out on Tuesday throughout the country, there have been reports that internet services were deliberately interrupted. Micro blogging website Twitter had confirmed that the service was officially blocked. However users were able to access the site through proxies.

A similar blockage targeted Facebook, where online activists led by the April 6 Youth Movement had made a call for demonstrations on Tuesday Jan. 25, to coincide with Egyptian Police Day.

According to news reports members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including eight senior officials of the opposition group and its main spokesmen, were rounded up overnight. A security source said authorities had ordered a crackdown on the group.

According to Reuters, trucks of police lined side roads leading to Tahrir, a central square in Cairo where there were some of the biggest demonstrations on Tuesday and also some of the most violent clashes.

Fire trucks with water cannon were also parked at sites where demonstrators are expected to gather, including near Al-Azhar mosque and a presidential palace in central Cairo.

Emboldened by recent events in Tunisia, where popular protests led to the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptians took to the streets demanding a similar fate to their 30-year-old President and regime.

On the first day of protests, thousands congregated in separate protests throughout the capital, eventually consolidating when they reached Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, where some 10,000 protesters gathered to call for regime change, an end for corruption, social and political rights.

Violent confrontations between the protesters and security reached a head at midnight, when police decided to disperse the crowds using teargas, water cannon and rubber bullets. At least 1000 were arrested including journalists.

Fatal clashes took place in the Northern city of Suez, where four protestors were killed leading to more violent escalations on the two days that followed with protesters setting fire to one police post and the fire department.

One riot policeman was killed in Cairo and there were also reports that one protestor was also killed in Sinai.

The 22-year-old man, Mohamed Atef, was shot in the head while demonstrating in the town of Sheikh Zoweid, sources told Reuters.

The shooting came as police fought protesters in Suez and Ismailia, two cities straddling the Suez Canal that separates Sinai from the rest of Egypt.

According to a Daily News Egypt poll posted on Jan.25, 61 percent of respondents said that protests in Egypt would lead to regime change.





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