Looting engulfs Cairo, other Egyptian cities

CAIRO, Egypt — Tens of thousands of Egyptians broke curfew Saturday to march in Cairo and other major cities in a clear message to U.S.-allied president Hosni Mubarak that nothing short of his resignation would end anti-government protests.

The police, who were the targets of much of Friday's violence, had largely vanished from the streets and were replaced by the more popular Egyptian army, which was welcomed by protesters who hugged soldiers and snapped souvenir photos of their tanks.

But the absence of the police also created an opening for gangs of thugs who looted private homes and shops and prompted some neighborhoods to form vigilante groups that intercepted cars and kept non-residents out.

Throughout the day, the military showed extraordinary restraint, even allowing some protesters to write graffiti on some tanks: "Down with Mubarak!" But Egyptians were bracing for a showdown. The question was, will the army stand with the people or with the Mubarak regime?

"This is the nation's army, not Mubarak's army," said Nabil Abdel Fattah, deputy director of the Cairo-based Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "I think the army will take the side of the Egyptian national movement."

By 10 p.m. Saturday, most of the protesters had gone home, though criminal elements continued their looting.

The military sent reinforcements to vulnerable Cairo districts and to affluent suburbs, where private homes reportedly came under attack by marauding youths. Egyptian families grabbed homemade weapons and stood together outside their doorsteps to fight off gangs in neighborhoods across Cairo.

More than 100 people have died in the unrest of the past week, including at least 25 in Cairo, 38 in Suez and 36 in Alexandria, according to tallies on local TV stations.

The Al Jazeera satellite television network aired video showing the aftermath of looting of antiquities at Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum — damaged mummies, statues knocked off their pedestals and empty cases that once held 4,000-year-old jewelry.

The Egyptian army sent troops into the museum, and they were patrolling around mummies, statues and displays. Until the army secured the site, people fended off the looters with human chains. There was some concern Saturday that the museum could be damaged by a still-smoldering fire next door at the ruling party headquarters.

Mubarak, who's never named a vice president during his 30-year rule, appointed his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, to be his second-in-command. He also named Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force chief of staff, the new prime minister.

To protesters, however, the president's overhaul of his Cabinet was too little, too late.

"What Cabinet? Since when does the government rule? All of the power is in the hands of the president," said Ahmed Salah, 45, as he joined thousands of protesters at a downtown Cairo rally.

Political analysts said Egypt's leaderless revolutionaries wouldn't accept a mere reshuffling of the same old faces and would continue their rallies until Mubarak is forced out.