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On the ground amid Egyptians' protests

By Ivan Watson, CNN
  • A cab driver says, "We don't need a new government, we need a new president."
  • A stranded U.S. family, unable to communicate with the outside world, contemplates what to do
  • Internet outages are affecting life in unexpected ways

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- The grizzled taxi driver manuevered his battered black-and-white cab down an overpass, toward streets where head-scarved women posed for photos with the burned-out hulks of police vehicles.

"Tell America to stop supporting this (expletive) government," the driver named Shaban swore, enthusiastic about the fast-moving events in Egypt, where tens of thousands of people demanding the president's resignation have clashed with security forces.

"We don't need a new government, we need a new president," he said.

After two days of protests, police had been forced to retreat. There was no sign of them anywhere on Saturday.

Instead, the beige armored personnel carriers of units from the military's Presidential Guard were posted at intersections and outside strategic buildings, such as the offices of Egyptian state television.

Early Saturday afternoon, thousands of chanting demonstrators filed passed the still-smoking office building that was, until Friday, the headquarters for the ruling National Democratic Party.

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As the protesters approached the Egyptian TV building, soldiers linked arms, forming a human chain to hold then back. The crowd stopped short of the troops and continued chanting.

"Down, down, Hosni Mubarak," they yelled. "The people want to bring down the regime."

"We will not stop until we get a new president," declared one protester named Mustafa, who would not give his full name because he wasn't "100% sure" he could publicly criticize the government without being punished.

"Yesterday was a very exceptional day in the history of Egypt. It is the day we spoke up" the man said. As for the police, he said, "they are some rats' hole."

Not everyone was celebrating the absence of police. The sudden lack of security raised fears among some of anarchy in the streets.

"Last night people came to destroy the Radio Shack in my neighborhood, looted the whole thing with knives and sticks," said Adham el Kamouny, a presenter with Egypt's Channel 1 TV. "I want to know, is it on purpose?"

He wondered if Mubarek is "punishing" the people or if there was another reason for the lack of security.

"Is there a conflict between the Army and the Ministry of Interior? We don't know, and he's still responsible," he said of Mubarak.

Although some local cell phone service had been restored, the Internet remained inaccessible. The collapse of basic telecommunications has had unforeseen consequences in some of the most trivial aspects of daily life.

The handful of bellhops working at the Sheraton Hotel near Cairo International Airport had to scurry from room to room, using their master keys to help guests into their rooms becasue the hotel's magnetic key system wasn't working - it relies on Internet access to update guests' keys.

Hundreds of arriving travelers trapped at Cairo airport by a dusk-to-dawn curfew slept on the floor early Saturday morning. Among them were Lucas Pierce, his family and his girlfriend, who had just arrived from Willsoboro, New York, for what was supposed to be a two-week vacation on the Nile River.

Banned by the curfew from driving to their hotel in downtown Cairo and unable to reach their tour guide because of the blocked cell phone system, the Pierces were contemplating canceling their vacation. But Lucas Pierce, who had organized the trip, said he had a hard time communicating with the outside world to explore alternatives.

"The most frustrating thing is the (blocked) phones and the lack of internet," said Piece, 25.

Picnicking on the floor, surrounded by Japanese tourists who were sleeping wearing protective surgical masks over their faces, the Pierces debated the pros and cons of landing amidst such chaos in the world's most populous Arab country.

"I finally I got my first stamp in my passport," Pierce's 25-year old girlfriend, Jennifer Trude, said with a laugh.

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