Pro-Mubarak protesters retreat as anti-gov't rioters charge

630 injured, three killed in clashes; machine guns are fired and Molotov Cocktails hurled from surrounding buildings; protesters target Egyptian Museum.

By JPOST.COM STAFF, MELANIE LIDMAN, , AP
February 2, 2011 23:39
Egypt protests

egypt protest rooftop night firebomb 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Pro-Mubarak protesters began to retreat from Tahrir Square in Cairo Wednesday night after anti-government protesters charged at them with metal shields.

Molotov cocktails continued to be thrown and gunshots were heard from both sides and from rooftops.

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Earlier, at around 8 p.m., Egyptian state television ordered all demonstrators to evacuate Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

Anti-government protesters remained in the square, chanting "Leave! Leave!" at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as ambulances were stationed in the area. Frequent gunfire was heard in the vicinity of the Egyptian Museum.

A spokesman from the Egyptian Health Ministry on Wednesday said that 630 were injured and three people were killed in the recent round of clashes that erupted in central Cairo earlier in the day.

According to the report, the man who was killed was a "conscript" which means he could have belonged to the army or police.

Pro- and anti-government protesters continued to clash in Cairo on Wednesday, with Mubarak's supporters throwing dozens of Molotov cocktails at those protesting against the regime.



Numerous explosives were hurled as the pro-regime mob attempted to push through a no-man's land towards the anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square.


Witnesses at Tahrir Square also said they heard several shots fired into the air, and water cannons were fired by security officials to try to calm the protests, according to reports.

An anti-Mubarak demonstrator told the BBC that she is trapped in Tahrir Square, because the area is surrounded by pro-government rioters.

"If we want to get out we have to go through Mubarak supporters," she said. "I'm scared of going out because my face is now recognizable as an opposition protester."

As Supporters and opponents clashed, raining stones, bottles and firebombs on each other in scenes of uncontrolled violence, soldiers stood by without intervening. Government backers galloped in on horses and camels, only to be dragged to the ground and beaten bloody.

At the front line, next to the famed Egyptian Museum at the edge of Tahrir Square, pro-government rioters blanketed the rooftops of nearby buildings, dumping bricks and firebombs onto the crowd below — in the process setting a tree ablaze inside the museum grounds.

On the street below, the two sides crouched behind abandoned trucks and hurled chunks of concrete and bottles at each other, and some government supporters waved machetes.

Bloodied anti-government protesters were taken to makeshift clinics in mosques and alleyways nearby, and some pleaded for protection from soldiers stationed at the square, who refused. Soldiers did nothing to stop the violence beyond firing an occasional shot in the air and no uniformed police were in sight.

"Hosni has opened the door for these thugs to attack us," one man with a loudspeaker shouted to the crowds during the fighting.

The clashes marked a dangerous new phase in Egypt's upheaval — the first significant violence between supporters of the two camps in more than a week of anti-government protests. Clashes began, first in the port city of Alexandria, just hours after Mubarak went on national television Tuesday night and rejected protesters' demands he step down immediately. He defiantly insisted he would serve out the remaining seven months of his term.

Peaceful protests

Meanwhile, Thousands of Egyptians gathered in an upscale Cairo boulevard Wednesday to cheer on President Hosni Mubarak in their first mass counter-demonstration after more than a week of calls for him to resign.

Many praised Mubarak for keeping the country at peace after a series of wars with Israel. Others said they felt personally humiliated by anti-Mubarak demonstrators jeering a man they saw as a symbol of the nation.

The mood was angry and defiant but the protest was mostly peaceful, in contrast to the scene in Cairo's main square, where hundreds of young pro-government supporters attacked crowds of thousands demanding his ouster.

On the boulevard in the middle-class, heavily commercial neighborhood of Mohandiseen, men in designer sunglasses and women with expensive hairdos joined government employees, including a few dozen nurses in white dresses and stockings who jumped and chanted, "We love you Mubarak!" Younger men carried portraits of Mubarak and shouted in support. Children painted their faces with the black, white and red colors of the Egyptian flag.

Pro-Mubarak protesters also gathered in other middle-class Cairo neighborhoods and the Nile Delta town of Luxor.

"We have been a stable country since the days of the Pharoahs. These demonstrators want to turn us into Somalia: poor and at war with itself," cried Samir Hamid, a 58-year-old war veteran who said his age made him remember life before Mubarak took power nearly 30 years ago. He said he recalled struggling to find bread in the pre-Mubarak years, and the wailing of Egyptian women who lost their sons in wars against Israel.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in 







Egypt

Mubarak says he will not seek re-election

In his 10-minute televised address to the nation Tuesday night, the 82-year-old Mubarak appeared somber but spoke firmly and without an air of defeat. He insisted that even if the protests demanding his ouster had never broken out, he would not have sought a sixth term in September.

He said he would serve out the rest of his term working "to accomplish the necessary steps for the peaceful transfer of power." He said he will carry out amendments to rules on presidential elections, and vowed not to flee the country.

The step came after heavy pressure from his top ally, the United States. Soon after Mubarak's address, US President Barack Obama said at the White House that he had spoken with Mubarak and "he recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and a change must take place." Obama said he told Mubarak that an orderly transition must be meaningful and peaceful, must begin now and must include opposition parties.

Mubarak would be the second Arab leader pushed from office by a popular uprising in the history of the modern Middle East, following the ouster last month of the president of Tunisia — another North African nation.


Jpost.com staff contributed to this report

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