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Egypt 'cannot go back,' opposition leader ElBaradei tells crowds in Cairo

Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei waves to supporters in Tahrir Square on January 30, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt.

Peter Macdiarmid/Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Egyptian opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei told thousands of protesters in central Cairo on Sunday that an uprising against President Hosni Mubarak's rule "cannot go back."

"You have taken back your rights and what we have begun cannot go back," he told cheering crowds who responded "down with Mubarak." "We have one main demand - the end of the regime and the beginning of a new stage, a new Egypt."

"I bow to the people of Egypt in respect. I ask of you patience, change is coming in the next few days," he said.

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"The people want the regime to fall," protesters chanted as Mr. ElBaradei walked to the centre of the square, holding hands with some demonstrators. He did not make a statement to reporters.

"Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei will be joining protesters in Tahrir," Mustafa el-Naggar earlier told Reuters, adding he would come to the square later on Sunday, his first visit to the hub of the protest since returning to Egypt on Thursday.

Mr. Naggar is the co-ordinator for the National Coalition for Change, a coalition of opposition movements seeking political reform and headed by Mr. ElBaradei.

In a series of interviews with U.S. television networks from Cairo, Mr. ElBaradei also said he had a mandate to negotiate a national unity government and would soon reach out to the army, at the heart of power in Egypt for more than a half century.

As jets streaked through the sky in Cairo on Sunday, the scenes of euphoria in the streets have given way to fear after a night of looting and violence.

While the army has been positioned around central squares, major government buildings, banks and foreign embassies, there is little or no security in the commercial and residential districts.

There is not a uniformed policeman anywhere to be seen. This is a police state without any police. Military police are directing traffic at major intersections in the downtown, but elsewhere, it is citizens themselves that are assuming the role of traffic police, directing traffic.

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Many small streets have been closed to traffic by the residents themselves in an effort to keep looters away.

Civilian checkpoints have been established in many areas, with men wielding iron bars forcing every car to stop and be searched before proceeding. This reporter and his driver passed through about a dozen of these checkpoints while driving around several of the neighbourhoods.

Almost all businesses have remained closed today, except for those cleaning up from the overnight attacks by roving gangs of looters. The posh Arkadio shopping mall near the World Trade Centre and beside the Fairmont Hotel was looted and set ablaze last night. In early afternoon, black smoke continued to pour from the building.

Across the Nile in the upscale district of Mohandessin, several shop fronts were smashed in and the stores' contents looted. Outside one fashionable shoe store three black leather boots lay in a pool of water and mud. In the Khan el-Khalili shopping district, popular with tourists, shop owners barricaded the tiny laneways and stood guard at their small gold, jewellery and souvenir shops.

Even in the poor neighbourhood of Imbaba, civilian patrols are keeping guard as people try to safeguard what little they have. Lengthy lineups have formed outside bakeries as people seek to stock up on subsidized bread, and there has been a run on non-perishable foodstuff in many areas.

Thousands of people have again entered Tahrir Square today, but army tanks and armoured personnel carriers are arrayed at every entrance, forcing people to go through only one at a time and after showing identity documents. The checkpoints will make it impossible for the crowd to exit quickly in the event of an emergency.

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Nearby, the army appears to have taken complete control of the hated Interior Ministry after attacks made last night by protesters left a reported 13 people dead.

The overall mood of the city is fear. Tourists and other foreign visitors have flooded the airport in efforts to get out of the country. People are willing to fly anywhere at this point. Locals are very nervous about the possibility of personal attack.

Some protest organizers say they believe the government is spreading rumours of such attacks in an effort to keep protesters home. Certainly the government has taken substantial steps to channel the messages being sent. The Internet remains shut off, cellphone networks are open but limited because of volume. State radio has announced that the Arab television network Al Jazeera has been ordered closed in Egypt and its personnel ordered out of the country. At this moment the network continues to broadcast with nearly live images on its screen.

Protest organizers fear that the government tactics, combined with the nighttime violence and absence of police may turn the people against the protest movement. They are trying to rally as many people as possible to show their continued strength.

With files from Reuters

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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