Egypt unrest toll touches 150; thousands of prisoners flee

Last Updated: Sun, Jan 30, 2011 13:36 hrs

Cairo: Egypt was in the grip of increasing lawlessness on Sunday as gangs of armed men helped free thousands of prisoners and looters rampaged malls, banks and jewellery stores, even as many armymen doffed uniforms to join the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule that has claimed at least 150 lives in six days.

An embattled Mubarak, 82, visited the military headquarters and held hectic parleys with top commanders, a day after he showed first signs of handing over power by naming intelligence chief and his close confidant Omar Suleiman as Vice President.

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera channel put the death toll at 150 and said that 4,000 people had been injured since the unprecedented mass protests against Mubarak's autocratic regime began on Tuesday, while some other reports said over 100 had been killed.

For the first time, a large number of judges also joined the mass protests threatening to destabilise the world's most populous Arab State.

Taking advantage of the fluid situation, armed gangs fired at guards in four prisons, including in Alexandria and Aswan, and helped thousands of inmates to flee.

An estimated 5,000 inmates broke free from a jail in El Fayoum, south of Cairo, killing a senior police officer, media reports said.

Mobs stormed into upmarket malls, bank, jewellery and electronic stores beside government buildings and looted TV sets, furniture, electronic items and gold ornaments, defying curfew in the capital. Looting and arson continued through the night as security personnel disappeared from the trouble spots.

In a desperate bid to quell the riots, Mubarak ordered more troops and armoured vehicles into the streets of Cairo.

A special Air India aircraft is flying over 300 Indians to Mumbai, Indian Ambassador R Swaminathan said. They will reach Mumbai on Monday morning, he said.

The Indian mission is making arrangements for those wishing to return home.

Pro-democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, who returned to Egypt from Vienna on Thursday, asked Mubarak to step down, saying his response to the mass protests was "disappointing".

Egypt bans Al-Jazeera channel as protests escalate

The Nobel laureate and former chief of the UN nuclear watchdog, who was put under house arrest soon after joining the protests, said the nation would collapse if Mubarak stayed.

In a telephonic interview to Al-Jazeera, he asked Mubarak to set a framework for transition of power and said it is the only way to end the unrest that has rocked Egypt.