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Thousands of prisoners escape in Egypt

Cairo: Thousands of prisoners escaped from jails across Egypt as anti-regime riots entered the sixth day on Sunday, with looters rampaging through malls and luxury shops and a number of armymen doffing uniforms to join the unprecedented protests that have claimed at least 102 lives.

Embattled President Hosni Mubarak, 82, clung to power despite mounting pressure to quit as the situation in the world`s most populous Arab nation deteriorated.

The President last night named intelligence chief and his close confidante Omar Suleiman as Vice President for the first time in his 30-year rule.

He also chose aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq as new prime minister, hours after sacking the Cabinet and promising democratic and economic reforms. Shafiq, a former chief of Air Staff, has often been mooted as a potential successor to Mubarak.

Numerous jailbreaks were reported overnight from Alexandria, Aswan and other places. An estimated 5,000 inmates broke free from a jail in El Fayoum, south of Cairo, killing a senior police officer, media reports said.

The violent protests against Mubarak autocratic regime, which began on Tuesday, have so far left at least 102 people dead, including 33 who were killed yesterday, the reports said.

In the deadliest day of protests on Friday, 62 people were killed, including 35 in Cairo. Seven people were killed on Tuesday and Wednesday in Cairo and the canal city of Suez.

Several thousand people had also been injured, amid reports that more and more armymen were joining the protests against Mubarak.

Breaking into malls along the Nile, looters last night picked up TV sets, furniture, electronic items and clothes defying curfew and and heavy presence of security personnel in the capital.

Thousands of protesters defied the curfew for the second night and Cairo`s central Tahrir (Liberation) Square remained filled with protesters.

Troops and armoured vehicles had been deployed across the city to guard key government buildings, and major tourist and archaeological sites.

Despite heavy security presence, at least two looters managed to get into Cairo`s museum of antiquities and damaged some of the exhibits. Thieves also broke into the Arab International Bank and several cafes and eateries.

To protect their property from looters, residents of the city set up committees armed with guns, clubs and knives.

Protesters yesterday also tried to storm the Interior Ministry in central Cairo.

Protesters also besieged a police station yesterday in the Giza neighborhood of Cairo and looted and pulled down Egyptian flags before burning the building to the ground.

Pro-democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and former IAEA chief, said Mubarak`s appointments of Vice President and Premier were insufficient.

"I tell President Mubarak and his regime to leave Egypt as soon as possible. It will be better for Egypt and for you," he told Al-Jazeera television.

ElBaradei was put under house arrest after he joined the wave of protests against Mubarak following his return from Vienna, where he was based.

As Mubarak refused to quit, influential Arab cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi accused him of having turned "blind, deaf and dumb" and asked him to step down,

"President Mubarak … I advise you to depart from Egypt … There is no other solution to this problem but for Mubarak to go," Qaradawi said.

The widely respected Sunni Muslim cleric asked Mubarak to quit for the good of the country, as his ouster was the only solution to Egypt`s crisis.

Meanwhile, the official MENA news agency said that the pan-Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera has been banned in Egypt now.

Egypt`s outgoing information minister Anas al-Fikki has "ordered the closure of all activities by Al Jazeera in the Arab republic of Egypt, and the annulment of its licences, as well as withdrawing the press cards to all its employees as of (today)," MENA said.

The unrest in Egypt also affected stock markets across the Middle East, which kept on tumbling.

Cairo stock exchange will remain closed today — despite Sunday being a full trading day in the Middle East — because of the turmoil in the city.

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