Embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has named a vice president for the first time since coming to power nearly 30 years ago, following unprecedented protests and opposition to his rule.
Observers say the move is a clear step toward setting up a successor in the midst of the biggest ever anti-government demonstrations of his regime.
Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman’s appointment as the first postholder since Mubarak held the post from 1975-1981 may be intended to enable him to take control of a transitional government after Mubarak’s resignation, CNN and the Jerusalem Post report, citing a key source in the ruling regime.
Meanwhile, 17 people have been shot dead after attempted attacks on police stations. The death toll is now over 75, with 2,500 injured in continuing protests spread across the country.
There are reports of looting, riots and demonstrations in all the main cities, while internet access has been blocked for a third day.
Leaders from the US, UK, France and Germany have urged President Hosni Mubarak to avoid violence and enact reforms.
In Cairo, thousands of demonstrators have ignored a curfew. The BBC says the army is standing by and not intervening.
US President Barack Obama met national security officials on Saturday 29 January 2011 to discuss the situation in Egypt and responses to it.
Amnesty International has urged the Egyptian authorities to rein in security forces to prevent further deaths of protesters.
The demonstrations across Egypt in recent days are highlighting poverty, police abuse, corruption and despotic rule.
"The Egyptian authorities must rein in the security forces to prevent bloodshed,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"The authorities cannot continue to rely on the 30-year-old State of Emergency to enforce a blanket prohibition on public demonstrations and grant sweeping powers of search and arrest.”
The organisation said protesters must have the right to organise protests and to demonstrate free from intimidation, violence, and the threat of detention and prosecution.
Prominent human rights activists have had their mobile phone accounts deactivated, it is reported.
"By taking this dramatic step of stopping the flow of information between Egyptians, the authorities have shown the lengths to which they will go to remove the right to peaceful protest,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
Amnesty has condemned Egyptian security forces’ disproportionate and unnecessary use of live rounds and lethal force against protesters, which yesterday reportedly led to the death of another demonstrator.
The human rights NGO says it has received information that 22-year-old Ahmed Atef was killed on Thursday 27 January 2011 in North Sinai when security forces in the town of Sheikh Zuweid opened fire on a crowd of more than 1000 demonstrators. Seven protesters were reportedly killed in the north-eastern city of Suez.
Thousands of protesters have been detained by the Egyptian security forces, according to figures gathered by lawyers and human rights organizations.
A number of detained protesters have told Amnesty International that they were beaten up during arrest and in detention at the Central Security camps, and were denied adequate medical care.
Members of the board of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, including Eissam Aryan and Mohamed Mursi, have been arrested, as well as 20 other leaders from various governorates.
Under international law, police may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty. In particular, they must not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.
Charges against protesters have included gathering, assault on security forces, damaging public property and disrupting traffic. These charges have often been used by the authorities in order to curb freedom of assembly and deny Egyptians the right to peaceful demonstrations.
Also on Ekklesia: 'Politics, religion and the Middle East', by Dr Harry Hagopian - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14037