CAIRO — Thousands of Egyptians vented their rage against President Hosni Mubarak's autocratic government in a second day of protests Wednesday that defied a ban on public gatherings. Baton-wielding police responded with tear gas and beatings in a crackdown that showed zero tolerance.
Egypt's largest antigovernment protests in years echoed the uprising in Tunisia, threatening to destabilize the leadership of the most important U.S. ally in the Arab world. The ability of the protesters to sustain the momentum for two days in the face of such a heavy-handed police response was a rare feat in this country.
One protester and a police officer were killed Wednesday, bringing the two-day toll to six. Some 860 people have been rounded up, and Facebook, Twitter and cell phones — key to organizing protests — have been disrupted.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Egypt to adopt broad reforms and not crack down on the antigovernment crowds. She urged the Mubarak regime to "take this opportunity to implement political, economic and social reforms that will answer the legitimate interests of the Egyptian people."
Still, there was no indication that Mubarak, 82, who has ruled with an iron fist for nearly 30 years, intends to relinquish power or make democratic or economic concessions, and no sign he would rein in his security forces.
The defiant demonstrations continued late into the night. In Cairo, dozens of riot police with helmets and shields charged more than 2,000 marchers on a downtown boulevard along the Nile. Smaller clashes broke out across the capital. In cities across Egypt, protesters incensed by grinding poverty, rising prices and high unemployment hurled rocks and firebombs at police and smashed the windows of military vehicles.