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Egypt cuts off mobiles and the Internet as police crack down on protestors

Egypt has been disconnected from the Internet as police launch violent clashes with protestors today.

Egypt has been disconnected from the Internet as clashes in the country continue today. Popular sites such as Twitter and Facebook appear to have been blocked, while mobile phone calls and text messages have also been disrupted.

Protests against the Egypt's government are now in their fourth day. With the Internet blackout making it difficult to either communicate within the country or report abroad, it's feared President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party may crack down on protests with renewed force.

Despite the Web block, citizens and journalists are managing to post some updates to sites including YouTube and Flickr. CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman reports that police have confiscated his crew's camera, with "violent suppression of protesters everywhere".

The wave of demonstrations against Mubarak's 30-year-old regime was partly inspired by the 'Jasmine Revolution' in Tunisia earlier this month, in which a similar dictatorship was overthrown. Egypt has been under a form of martial law almost continually since 1967, with extended police powers, legal censorship and constitutional rights suspended.

Protests across the country began on Tuesday 25 January, the 'Day of Anger'. Since then, at least seven people have died and more than 1,000 arrested in violent clashes that have seen crowds fired on with tear gas and live ammunition.

Protestors including the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition party -- which, like all non-government political activity, is illegal -- have been using the Web to organise and inspire citizens.

Around 10.30pm last night -- just after midnight in Egypt -- the country's Internet service providers including Link Egypt, Vodafone Raya, Sebone, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat appear to have been simultaneously disconnected. Vodafone's Egyptian Twitter feed has announced that it is not blocking any websites, and blocks are "a problem all over Egypt and we are waiting for a solution".

The power of tech-savvy protestors to both organise protest and publicise events outside their country has become a major part of such events. The Egyptian government has clearly learned how potent the Web can be in organising citizens, and in winning international sympathy for protest movements.

The importance of the Web in such situations was first realised in Iran, where tweets and YouTube videos showed the true horror of violence surrounding the 2009 elections.

Violence continues across Egypt. Channel 4 correspondent Jonathan Rugman describes an "extraordinary standoff in the centre of Cairo overlooking the Nile", where tear gas has been used on protestors. You can follow developments with the Twitter hashtags #Jan25 and #Egypt.

Image: Al Jazeera English on Flickr