Americans advised to leave Egypt amid protests
(MSNBC)—Cairo, The US embassy advised Americans Sunday to consider leaving Egypt as soon as possible amid the continuing pro-democracy demonstrations and an outbreak of mass looting.
The Sunday morning travel warning said the Embassy would update Americans about departure assistance as soon as possible.
It said U.S. citizens should avoid travel to Egypt because of unrest, violence, and ongoing demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak government.
The warning was an escalation in the assessment of the situation by the U.S. government, which previously had advised against non-essential travel to Egypt and told people already there to stay put.
NBC News said the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, which deals with Americans in need in foreign countries, believed there were likely “thousands” of U.S. citizens in Egypt, but was unable to be more specific.
“We do encourage U.S. citizens living and residing abroad to sign up with us at http://www.travel.state.gov,”; the U.S. State Department said in a statement. “This not only allows us to make more accurate plans in the event of a crisis in country, but enables us to provide those U.S. citizens with information and to reach them, should an emergency occur.”
Meanwhile, Turkey was sending planes to Egypt to evacuate its citizens, according to the Anatolian Agency.
The warnings were issued after five days of unprecedented protests against the three-decade rule of President Hosni Mubarak that have rocked the Arab world. More than 100 people have been killed.
On Sunday, the streets of Cairo were filled with looted stores, burned out cars and the stench of blazing tires.
The crackle of gunfire could be heard in the city center as well as outlying districts. Vigilante groups have been set up in some areas to protect property.
The outbreak of looting left long-suffering Egyptians caught between hope for democratic reform and fear of chaos.
It was initially quiet, but more than 1,000 protesters, who were being joined by a stream of others, began gathering in central Cairo mid-morning Sunday.
‘Mubarak, the plane awaits’
The crowds demanded Mubarak step down and dismissed his appointment of Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief, as vice president and possible successor. It is the first time Mubarak has appointed a deputy in 30 years of office.
“Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, both of you are agents of the Americans,” shouted protesters. “Mubarak, Mubarak, the plane awaits.”
Jonathan Rugman, of the U.K.’s Channel 4 News, said in a Twitter message that the army was blockading all routes to the central Tahrir Square for first time. He suggested “tolerance running thin.”
But the biggest immediate fear was of looting as all public order broke down. Mobs stormed into supermarkets, banks, jewelry shops and government buildings. Thieves at the Egyptian Museum damaged two mummies from the time of the pharaohs.
“They are letting Egypt burn to the ground,” said Inas Shafik, 35.
The looting, which has spread despite a 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew, prompted residents in some neighborhoods to set up roadblocks at intersections to provide security.
Al-Jazeera correspondent Jane Dutton reportedthat the police “have just disappeared. Any security at this stage is in the hands of the army.”
The station’s correspondents reported widespread looting in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria with people using batons, machetes and knives to protect their property.
It added that unidentified men who came out of the interior ministry compound had dumped a body on a street, citing an eyewitness named as Dina Magdi
Al-Jazeera said the men shot at people in the area, then left. The network said there were no immediate reports of injuries.
The Egyptian government said Sunday it had shut down Al-Jazeera’s operations in the country, ordering the “canceling of its licenses and withdrawing accreditation to all its staff as of today,” a statement on the official Mena news agency said.
Adding to the chaos, the Agence France Presse news agency reported that thousands of prisoners had escaped from a jail which holds many Islamist political prisoners.
It said inmates had overwhelmed the guards at the Wadi Natrun facility north of Cairo and escaped to nearby towns.