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Egypt: Protesters defy curfew as demonstrations continue (UPDATES)

Government curfew ignored as army moves in to disperse tens of thousands on Cairo's streets.

Egypt Cairo Protest
Police gather in Tahrir Square as a car burns on Jan. 28, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. Thousands of police are on the streets of the capital. Hundreds of arrests have been made in an attempt to quell demonstrations. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

CAIRO, Egypt — Tens of thousands of protesters continued to flood the streets of Cairo Friday evening, defying calls for a curfew by the country's president, GlobalPost correspondent Jon Jensen reports.

The demonstrators continued their march toward Cairo's Tahrir, or "Liberation," Square amid a cloud of tear gas, clashing, and at times overwhelming, the country's powerful security forces. Several buildings were on fire, including the headquarters for the ruling National Democratic Party.

Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, instituted an overnight curfew, which was announced on state television. But crowds remained on the streets, calling for the president to step down.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Egyptian government to exercise restraint in dealing with protests and to respect citizens' human rights.

Clinton also asked the Mubarak government "to allow peaceful protests and reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications," a reference to the goverment's decision to block internet acces int he country.

The demonstrations began, after midday prayers, following an eerie morning during which shops were shuttered and riot police, preparing for the later battle, moved into positions around the capital.

Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, meanwhile, was reportedly placed under house arrest Friday after noon prayers. Police fired water cannons at him and used batons to beat some of ElBaradei's supporters, who surrounded him to protect him, The Associated Press reported.

A soaking wet ElBaradei was trapped inside a mosque while hundreds of riot police laid siege to it, firing tear gas in the streets around so no one could leave. Tear gas canisters set several cars ablaze outside the mosque and several people fainted and suffered burns.

When he returned home, police stationed outside told him he was not allowed to leave again.

The demonstrators took to the streets in cities across Egypt demanding an end to Mubarak's 30-year presidency. GlobalPost correspondent Jon Jenson, reporting from Cairo, said the demonstrations at times turned violent as protesters clashed with police.

Jensen said protesters were "tearing up the sidewalk," tossing chunks of asphalt and anything else they could get their hands on at police who were responding with countless rounds of tear gas. The entire city, Jensen said, was ensconsed in a cloud of tear gas, which, he noted, was manufactured by an American company based in Jamestown, Penn. — a fact not lost on protesters.

The protesters fought back, often picking up smoking cannisters of tear gas and tossing them back into the crowds of riot police. Protesters also attacked three troop carriers, large trucks used to ferry police and soldiers around the city. The demonstrators ripped them to shreds, Jensen said, jumping on top of them and waving flags.

Although the size of the crowd was unprecedented, equally suprising was its make up. Jensen said the protesters were made up of young, old, poor, middle class, women and men.

"It's the first time for me to be on the streets protesting," said Ahmed Yeaya, standing on top of the newly reclaimed Galaa statue, crying tears of joy. "For 30 years we couldn't say no. We won't want blood, we want this to be a peaceful change."

He added that he was amazed to see both rich and poor protesting in the streets.

"We've taken our streets back and we will never go home," said Ahmad Ali, another protester. "We are tasting freedom and we will never go without it again."

At one point, according to Jensen, a police vehicle and fire truck attempted to flank protesters from the rear but were chased away  — in reverse at full speed — with rocks and bottles thrown at their windshields.

Al Jazeera reported also demonstations in Suez, a port on the Red Sea east of Cairo, and in the Nile Delta cities of Mansoura and Sharqiya.

Earlier Friday, Jensen — reporting by phone, as internet access in the country has been almost completely blocked — said that riot police had moved into positions throughout Cairo on Friday morning. An elite special operations force took up position in Tahir Square, which saw some of the biggest protests on Jan.