At least three people were killed and some 100 others were injured in south Egypt over the past two days during clashes between police and anti-government protestors, an Egyptian security official told AFP Wednesday.
The clashes erupted in a city located some 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) south of Cairo after protestors set fire to a number of buildings, including two police stations, a courthouse and a building owned by President Hosni Mubarak's party. Police responded with live fire.
Meanwhile in Cairo, the mass protest at Tahrir Square against Mubarak's regime entered its 16th day. Vice President Omar Suleiman promised overnight Wednesday that the government would not harass or arrest the activists, but warned that "We can't bear this for a long time."
"There must be an end to this crisis as soon as possible," he said, adding that the regime wants to resolve the crisis through dialogue. "We don't want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools," said the VP.
Suleiman also warned of chaos if the situation continued, speaking of "the dark bats of the night emerging to terrorize the people." If dialogue is not successful, he said, the alternative is "that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities."
'Culture of democracy far away'
Although it was not completely clear what the vice president intended in his "coup" comment, the protesters heard it as a veiled threat to impose martial law - which would be a dramatic escalation in the standoff.
Suleiman, a military man who was intelligence chief before being elevated to vice president amid the crisis, tried to explain the remark by saying:
"I mean a coup of the regime against itself, or a military coup or an absence of the system. Some force, whether it's the army or police or the intelligence agency or the (opposition Muslim) Brotherhood or the youth themselves could carry out 'creative chaos' to end the regime and take power," he said.
Suleiman, a close confidant of Mubarak, also reiterated his view that Egypt is not ready for democracy.
"The culture of democracy is still far away," he told state and independent newspaper editors in the roundtable discussion Tuesday.
His comments were a blunt, impatient warning for the youth organizers to enter talks and drop their insistence on Mubarak's ouster. He rejected any "end to the regime" including an immediate departure for Mubarak - who says he will serve out the rest of his term until September elections.
US Vice President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Suleiman on Tuesday, saying Washington wants Egypt to immediately rescind emergency laws that give broad powers to security forces - a key demand of the protesters.
Suleiman's sharply worded warning deepened protesters' suspicions of his US-backed efforts to put together negotiations with the opposition over reforms. The protesters fear that if they enter talks before Mubarak leaves, the regime will manipulate them and conduct only superficial changes without bringing real democracy.
AFP, AP contributed to the report
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