Mass Anti-Government Protests Rock Egypt

VOA: Tens of thousands of protesting Egyptians flooded into the streets after Friday’s prayers in mounting demonstrations calling for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in central Cairo, where some of the larger demonstrations were held. Trucks of police armed with water cannons lined Cairo avenues as government forces attempted to disperse crowds.

Internet service, a key tool for activists, was shut down across the country shortly after midnight.  Cell phone text messaging and data plans were also disabled. Telecom company Vodafone says the Egyptian government ordered all mobile telephone operators to suspend service in parts of the country.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for Egypt’s leaders and its people not to let violence escalate. He says world leaders should view the protests as a chance to hear the “legitimate concerns” of their people.

Earlier, Egypt’s largest opposition group, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, says at least five senior leaders and five former members of parliament were arrested in raids.

The group has said it will join protests, but has not organized the demonstrations headed by young people angry at poor living standards and authoritarian rule.

At least five people have been killed and the government says 800 people have been detained since Tuesday.  Human rights groups say there have been more than 2,000 arrests.

The 82-year-old Egyptian president has not been seen or heard from since the protests began Tuesday with tens of thousands marching in Cairo and other cities.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama said political reforms were “absolutely critical” to Egypt’s “long-term well-being,” boosting pressure on Mr. Mubarak to implement changes while acknowledging he is a critical U.S. ally.

In his first comments on the unrest in Egypt, Mr. Obama on Thursday urged the government and the protesters to refrain from violence.