WASHINGTON Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday urged the Egyptian government to permit peaceful protests and not to block social networking sites, saying that the authorities had an important opportunity now to implement political, economic and social reforms.
Police fought with thousands of Egyptians who defied a government ban on Wednesday to protest against President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-old rule, firing tear gas at the crowds and dragging away demonstrators.
"We urge the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications including on social media sites," Clinton told reporters in the United States' most blunt comments to date urging Mubarak to undertake reforms.
"We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people," she added.
In Cairo, protesters burned tires and hurled stones at police as groups gathered at different parts of the capital. The scenes were unprecedented in the country, one of the United States' closest Middle East allies, and follow the overthrow two weeks ago of another long-serving Arab strongman, Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in a popular revolt.
(Editing by Eric Beech)