Cairo: Egypt`s military deployed on the streets of Cairo to enforce a nighttime curfew as the sun set Friday on a day of rioting and violent chaos that was a major escalation in the challenge to authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak`s 30-year rule.
Still thousands in the capital Cairo defied a nationwide night curfew and were trying to storm two major government buildings — the state TV and the Foreign Ministry. Others were praying on the streets after nightfall.
Flames rose up across a number of cities from burning tires and police cars. Even the ruling party headquarters in Cairo was ablaze in the outpouring of rage, bitterness and utter frustration with a regime seen as corrupt, heavy-handed and neglectful of grinding poverty that afflicts nearly half of the 80 million Egyptians. Hundreds were looting television sets and electric fans from the burning complex of buildings used by the ruling party.
One protester was killed in demonstrations that stretched across nearly half the provinces in Egypt, bringing the death toll for four days of protests to eight.
"I can`t believe our own police, our own government would keep beating up on us like this," said Cairo protester Ahmad Salah, 26. "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."
Internet and cell phone services, at least in Cairo, appeared to be largely cut off since overnight in the most extreme measure so far to try to hamper protesters form organizing. However, that did not prevent tens of thousands from flooding the streets, emboldened by the recent uprising in Tunisia — another North African Arab nation.
Even Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the country`s leading pro-democracy advocates, was under house arrest after joining the protests.
"It`s time for this government to change," said Amal Ahmed, a 22-year-old protester. "I want a better future for me and my family when I get married."
The sustained and intensifying demonstrations raised serious questions about whether Mubarak can keep his grip on power. Egypt is Washington`s closest Arab ally, but Mubarak may be losing U.S. support. The Obama administration has publicly counseled him to introduce reforms and refrain from using violence against the protesters.
President Barack Obama convened his national security team on the growing protests in Egypt as aides voice concern about violent clashes between demonstrators and police.
In one of many astonishing scenes Friday, thousands of anti-government protesters wielding rocks, glass and sticks chased hundreds of riot police away from the main square in downtown Cairo and several of the policemen stripped off their uniforms and badges and joined the demonstrators.
An agency reporter saw the protesters cheering the police who joined them and hoisting them on their shoulders in one of the many dramatic and chaotic scenes across Egypt on Friday.
After chasing the police, thousands of protesters were able to flood into the huge Tahrir Square downtown after being kept out most of the day by a very heavy police presence. Few police could be seen around the square after the confrontation.
The unrest began when tens of thousands poured into the streets after noon prayers in the mosques, stoning and confronting police who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Groups of thousands of protesters, some chanting "out, out, out," defied a ban that has been in place for days on any gatherings and turned out at different venues across Cairo, a city of about 18 million people. Some marched toward major squares and across scenic Nile bridges.
As the sun set, burning tires, buildings and cars sent up plumes of black smoke across the cityscape. Security officials said there were protests in at least 11 of the country`s 28 provinces.
In Cairo, at least two buildings at the ruling party`s headquarters complex downtown were on fire, one directly neighboring the Egyptian Museum, which is one of the country`s best-known tourist attractions and home to the treasures of King Tutankhamun.
The protesters were energized by the return of ElBaradei on Thursday night after a month abroad. He declared he was prepared to lead the opposition to a regime change.
Residents looking on from apartment block windows waved and whistled in support. Some waved the red, white and black Egyptian flags. The marchers were halted as they tried to cross a bridge over the Nile, when police fired dozens of tear gas canisters.
In downtown Cairo, people on balconies tossed cans of Pepsi and bottles of water to protesters on the streets below to douse their eyes, as well as onions and lemons to sniff, to cut the sting of the tear gas.
At Ramsis square in the heart of the city, thousands clashed with police as they left the al-Nur mosque after prayers. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets and some of the tear gas was fired inside the mosque where women were taking refuge. Hundreds later broke through police cordons to head to the main downtown square, Tahrir. But they were stopped by police firing tear gas.