Mubarak plays last card, the army; Police vanish

Tuesday, February 1, 2011   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

CAIRO Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has ordered the deployment of the military in what appeared to be a last-ditch effort to save his nearly 30-year-old regime.

Mubarak, amid the replacement of his government, has ordered the deployment of the military to quell anti-government riots that have swept Egypt. The military, equipped with main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers, was said to be guarding critical facilities in Alexandria, Cairo and Suez amid widespread looting.

"At this point, the Army is not battling demonstrators," a Western diplomat in Cairo said. "The next 24 hours will determine whether Mubarak will survive."

The military deployment came amid the virtual disappearance of police and security forces from several Egyptian cities. Opposition sources said many of the security officers fled or shed their uniforms in wake of the killing of more than 100 Egyptians and injury of several hundred over the last 24 hours.

"Plainclothes officers are attacking and looting in some areas of Cairo," an Egyptian opposition source said.

As of early Jan. 30, the Army, with 450,000 troops, took control of major intersections and bridges around Cairo, including routes to the international airport. The military has not been seen in other areas of the Egyptian capital, where police were replaced by vigilante groups with guns, knives and sticks.

During several demonstrations, Egyptian soldiers removed their helmets and embraced protesters. Army units did not intervene as Egyptian protesters ignored a military curfew, gutted the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party and torched government buildings as well as police stations.

"Demonstrate as much as you like," an Egyptian Army officer told a crowd in Cairo. "But at night leave the streets to us to stop the thugs."

A major confrontation has been taking place at the Interior Ministry in Cairo. Over the last day, heavy gunfire from the ministry was said to have killed at least 10 protesters who tried to storm the compound.

Diplomatic sources said Mubarak, whose family already fled to Britain, appeared to be paving the way for his imminent departure. On Jan. 29, Mubarak fired his Cabinet and appointed a new group of ministers, headed by former Air Force chief Ahmed Shafiq. The sources said Mubarak has lost all Western support for his regime.

Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Omar Suleiman was also appointed vice president, the first time Mubarak named a deputy since he came to power in 1981. Hours later, 19 business jets left Cairo for what was believed to have been the United Arab Emirates. The passengers were said to have included industrialists linked to the Mubarak regime.

"This is a last-ditch attempt by Mubarak [to stay in power]," Egyptian opposition journalist Nuwara Nagab said.

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