Egypt braces for Friday protests
Cairo - Egypt's interior ministry warned of "decisive measures" as dissidents planned to rally after Friday noon prayers for a fourth day in a row in the country's most serious anti-government unrest in decades.
The warning came as internet services suffered disruptions and cell phone text messaging was down, both used by organisers of this week's protests that led to deadly clashes between police and demonstrators.
As the unrest continued, US President Barack Obama warned that violence was not the answer, urging restraint on both sides, and also pressing President Hosni Mubarak to adopt political reforms.
The country's largest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, said late on Thursday that it would participate in Friday's protests, in a departure from the cautious approach it took towards the protests that started on Tuesday.
At least 20 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested overnight on Friday, its lawyer Abdelmoneim Abdel Maqsoud told AFP.
Among those arrested at their homes were five former members of parliament and five members of the political bureau, whose best known leaders are Essam El-Eriane and Mohammed Moursi.
The country's leading dissident, Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, also said he would take part in the protests after arriving late on Thursday from a visit to Vienna.
"It is a critical time in the life of Egypt. I have come to participate with the Egyptian people," ElBaradei, a vocal critic of Mubarak, said before leaving Cairo airport.
Earlier, in Vienna, he told reporters he was ready to "lead the transition" in Egypt if asked.
"I am still here hoping to continue to manage the process of change in an orderly way, in a peaceful way. I hope the regime will do the same."
But Egypt's interior ministry warned that it would take "decisive measures" against anti-government protesters.
The angry nationwide demonstrations have swelled into the largest uprising in three decades.
Seven people have been killed - five protesters and two police officers - and more than 100 injured.
And a security official told AFP around 1 000 people had been arrested since the protests began.
Human Rights Watch said eight demonstrators and a policeman officer had been killed in protests in Cairo, Suez, Alexandria and other cities. The US-based group said Egyptian police had escalated the use of force against largely peaceful demonstrations, calling it "wholly unacceptable and disproportionate."
A heavy security clampdown prevented protesters from massing in the centre of Cairo as they did on Tuesday and Wednesday, but clashes erupted in the cities of Suez and Ismailiya, and in a Sinai town where police shot dead a protester, witnesses said.
Internet users reported that they either could not access the web, or that services were very slow, while text messaging went down.