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Clinton calls for reform in Egypt

Egyptian protests have emulated the Tunisian model very closelyHillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has said that widespread anti-government protests over poverty and government repression in Egypt represent an opportunity for the administration of longtime president Hosni Mubarak to implement "political, economic and social reforms.

"In remarks on Wednesday, Clinton also said that the Mubarak government should not prevent peaceful protests or block social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook.

Security forces have confronted protesters with batons, tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets since demonstrations spread around the country on Tuesday, a planned "day of anger."

More than 500 protesters have reportedly been arrested, and the interior ministry promised that no protests would be tolerated.

On Wednesday evening, thousands of demonstrators were spread throughout downtown Cairo after being dispersed by security forces. Many had gathered on Gelaa Street, near central Tahrir Square - the site of a violent early morning confrontation between security forces and protesters who had been planning to sleep the night in defiance of the government.

Possible concession

Meanwhile, prime minister Ahmed Nazif made what may have been the government's first concession to protesters. In a statement to a state news agency, he pledged that the country's leadership was committed to allowing freedom of expression "by legitimate means."

But his statement came as the interior ministry said that 500 protesters had been arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday in an effort to clamp down on the public unrest. The ministry had said earlier on Wednesday that new demonstrations would not be allowed.

Thousands of armoured police had been deployed at key locations around the capital in anticipation of renewed demonstrations on Wednesday, which some have called the most significant in Egypt since massive riots over the price of bread in the 1970s.

Three protesters died in the port city of Suez, east of Cairo, during Tuesday's unrest, and a policeman was also killed when he was hit in the head with a rock in Cairo, an interior ministry official said.

Rageh, reporting from the Egyptian capital on Wednesday, said that the interior ministry had issued a statement banning further protests and threatening anyone encouraging them with investigation.

Dozens of protesters who took part in Tuesday's demonstrations were rounded up and taken in for questioning, Rageh reported, with some potentially facing prosecution.

Brotherhood blamed

The government officially blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's technically banned but largest opposition movement, for fomenting the protests.

But the group said that it would not officially participate in the January 25 protests and denied the accusation.

With just eight months to go before a presidential election that could see the ailing Mubarak run for re-election or attempt to hand power to a successor, protesters in Egypt demanded a solution to the country's grinding poverty and called for "the tyrant" to leave.

"Down with Hosni Mubarak, down with the tyrant," chanted the crowds. "We don't want you!"

The Tunisia link

Protesters explicitly linked their demonstrations to Tunisia's popular uprising, which brought down the 23-year government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The independent Al-Masry Al-Youm (Egypt Today) newspaper ran a blunt headline: "A Warning."

The interior ministry, which controls the security forces, said authorities wanted to let the protesters express their opinions and accused the crowds of "insisting on provocation."

"Some threw rocks at police ... and others carried out acts of rioting and damage to state institutions," the ministry said in a statement.

"Egyptians have the right to express themselves," Hosam Zaki, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said.

Mubarak, 82, has not appointed a deputy since he became president in 1981 and is widely thought to be grooming his son Gamal to succeed him.


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