Supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak charged into Cairo's central square Wednesday on horseback and camels while others rained firebombs from rooftops in what appeared to be an orchestrated assault against protesters calling for an end to his near-30-year-rule.
Anti-government demonstrators, after first trying to respond peacefully, fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails as battles broke out around Cairo's Tahrir Square. Doctors set up a makeshift clinic in a mosque near the square to help the more than 640 injured. Egypt's health ministry says three people were killed in Wednesday's clashes.
Reporters said Egyptian troops initially fired warning shots in a bid to end the melee. But the military mostly restricted itself to guarding the Egyptian Museum and using water cannons to extinguish flames stoked by the firebombs.
Anti-government protesters accused Mr. Mubarak's regime of unleashing a force of paid vandals and undercover police to crush their unprecedented, 9-day-old uprising. They showed off police identification badges they say were taken from their attackers, many of whom were armed with clubs, knives and other weapons.
Egyptian state television quotes the Interior Ministry denying that plainclothes police officers were involved in the violence.
Crowds remained in the streets after dark, once again defying an overnight curfew imposed by the government.
Democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei told the BBC the government is using “scare tactics” and said he feared the clashes would turn into a “bloodbath.”
Egypt's newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, Wednesday urged all demonstrators to respect the curfew and go home, saying his dialogue with political forces depends on an end to street protests.
Opposition groups, including the country's powerful but officially banned Muslim Brotherhood, have refused to negotiate with the government before Mr. Mubarak leaves office.
They have called for widespread demonstrations on Friday to press for the embattled president's departure.
The 82-year-old Mr. Mubarak announced late Tuesday he will not seek reelection in September, but he vowed to serve out his term until then.
He spoke at the end of a day when an estimated 250,000 people flooded Tahrir Square to demand his resignation. Anti-Mubarak protesters also rallied in other major Egyptian cities.
Egypt's military urged demonstrators to return to their normal lives, saying their message has been heard and their demands have become known.
Internet service returned to the country Wednesday after days of an unprecedented cutoff. A Facebook event called “A Virtual March of Millions in Solidarity with Egyptian Protestors” has grown to more than 350,000 international attendees.