Helicopters hover over Cairo protesters




-- Helicopters hovered over Cairo's Tahrir Square Monday morning as anti-government demonstrations continued for a seventh day and showed no signs of waning.

At least 1,000 people were gathered in the area, a focal point of the protests that started Tuesday. Some of them said they had spent the night, and the smell of smoke from campfires lingered in the air.

One group held signs as they chanted, "The Egyptian people want the government to fall."

Troops and tanks remained a visible presence on the city's streets. Police forces were scheduled to start deploying and resume their duties throughout Egypt on Monday, state-run Nile TV reported.

After driving around the port city of Alexandria for two hours, a CNN crew said it had seen only two police officers on the streets by late Monday morning.

Police have been virtually absent from the streets since Saturday, after a brutal crackdown a day earlier when thousands of riot and plainclothes police clashed violently with protesters.

As the threat of further unrest loomed, the U.S. planned to begin charter flights to help Americans leave the country Monday.

"There are thousands of potential evacuees out of Egypt, and so we are paying a lot of attention to that," Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs told reporters Sunday.

Officials are looking at Istanbul; Nicosia, Cyprus; and Athens, Greece, as possible destinations, although the list was not finalized Sunday afternoon, she said.

On Sunday, low-flying fighter jets overhead did nothing to deter thousands of Egyptians from continuing their protests into the night.

The arrival of Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei in Tahrir Square fueled their fervor. Throngs cheered as the leading opposition figure entered.

"Today I look into the eyes of each one of you, and everyone is different today," he told protesters. "Today, you are an Egyptian demanding your rights and freedom, and what we started can never be pushed back. As we said, we have one main demand: the end of the regime and to start a new phase."

ElBaradei, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is one of several opposition figures whose name surfaces when protesters talk about possible future leaders of Egypt. Among other names is Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League.

But Mubarak has given no indications of giving up his 30-year rule.

On Sunday, he urged the leaders of his new Cabinet to undertake "dialogue with all the (political) parties," according to a transcript of his remarks read on state-run Nile TV.

He also called on new government leaders to "stand against anyone committing any forms of corruption" and stressed "the necessity to continue with fair, serious and effective new steps for more political, constitutional and legislative reforms."

The president charged the new Cabinet, to be shaped by newly appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, to restore security in the country, along with Egyptians' faith in their country's economy. Mubarak also appeared to criticize the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition bloc.

"The citizens and the young people of Egypt have gone out to the streets in peaceful demonstration asking for their right for the freedom of speech," Mubarak said. "However, their demonstrations have been infiltrated by a group of people who use the name of religion who don't take into consideration the constitution rights and citizenship values."

A government-imposed curfew was scheduled to begin an hour earlier Monday -- at 3 p.m. (8 a.m. ET), Nile TV reported. But such restrictions have been largely ignored by protesters over the past few days.

The Egyptian stock exchange and banks also were closed Monday.

The unrest has paralyzed daily life in Egypt, with many grocers closing shop and spotty food shipments.

In Alexandria, people waited in long lines outside bakeries and supermarkets. Nile TV has set up a hotline for citizens to call in and report bread shortages across the country.

"Everything is running out. I have three children, and I only have enough to feed them for maybe two more days. After that I do not know what we will do." school administrator Gamalat Gadalla told CNN Sunday.

One of the biggest concerns of many Egyptians in the wake of the chaos -- that prisoners could escape -- proved true over the weekend.

Nile TV reported that roughly 1,000 inmates escaped from Prison Demu in Fayoum, southwest of Cairo. Inmates also broke out of Abu Zaabal prison in Cairo and the Ataa prison in Al Badrashin, a town in Giza, Nile TV said.

A military representative appeared on Nile TV Sunday and called on Egyptians to obey the curfew "to make it possible for us to capture the outlaws," according to a translation of the comments.

The station reported Monday that more than 2,000 escaped prisoners had been arrested.

Still, fear of anarchy and looting lingered. Shops and businesses were looted and abandoned police stations were stripped clean of their arsenals. Men with makeshift weapons patrolled neighborhoods, creating checkpoints to fill the void left when police stopped patrolling the streets.

Whether the 450,000-strong armed forces -- deployed to the streets for the first time since the mid-1980s -- will remain loyal to Mubarak is a key question for the nation's future.

Ali Regal, a student activist leader in Alexandria, said Sunday that the military was working closely with "the masses" -- including demonstrators -- to coordinate security. He said that organizers were mapping out a plan to set up checkpoints around the port city.

"The army is very helpful and working with us," Regal said. "There is a strong cooperation between the masses and the army, that's what I can tell so far."

The protests in Egypt come weeks after similar disturbances sparked a revolution in Tunisia, forcing then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country.

Both Egypt and Tunisia have seen dramatic rises in the cost of living in recent years and accusations of corruption among the ruling elite. Tunisia-inspired demonstrations have also taken place in Algeria, Yemen and Jordan.

The aging Mubarak has ruled Egypt with an iron fist for three decades, and it was widely believed he was grooming his son, Gamal, as his successor -- a plan now complicated by demands for democracy.

Mubarak appointed his trusted and powerful intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, as his vice president on Saturday, the first time the authoritarian regime has had such a post. Suleiman is well respected by the military and is credited with crushing an Islamic insurgency in the 1990s, for which he earned the ear of Western intelligence officials thirsting for vital information about regional terrorist groups.