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|Subject: Egypt's revolution turns ugly as Mubarak fights back Thu Feb 03, 2011 9:45 am|| |
Egypt's revolution turns ugly as Mubarak fights back
• Extraordinary scenes in central Cairo
• Violent battles in cities across the country
• Foreign journalists deliberately targeted
Mubarak supporters on horses in Tahrir Square. Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Egypt's pro-democracy revolution descended into violence and bloodshed
overnight as President Hosni Mubarak's regime launched a co-ordinated
bid to wrest back control of city streets, crush the popular uprising,
and reassert its authority.
Bursts of heavy gunfire rained into Tahir square just before dawn today
and there were reports that three more people had been killed. Protest
organiser Mustafa el-Naggar said he saw the bodies of three dead
protesters being carried toward an ambulance, while another witness
spoke of 15 people being wounded.
Clashes had continued into the early hours even though the pro-Mubarak
supporters had been pushed back to the edge of the square and explosions
– possibly from gas canisters – echoed around the area.
There were extraordinary scenes in the centre of Cairo as
anti-government demonstrators fought running battles with organised
cohorts of Mubarak supporters, exchanging blows with iron bars, sticks
At one point pro-Mubarak forces rode camels and horses into central
Tahrir Square, scattering opponents. At least three people were killed
yesterday and up to 1,500 injured according to medical sources.
A palm tree and a building caught alight while fires were burning
outside the historic Egyptian museum as petrol bombs were hurled back
and forth between the two opposing factions.
The violence was immediately condemned by David Cameron, the Obama
administration, and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, who condemned
what he described as attacks on peaceful demonstrators. The White House
warned that if any of the violence was instigated by the government it
should stop immediately, and also strongly criticised the beating of
local and foreign journalists, including a CNN reporter.
But after Mubarak's announcement that he would not seek another term at
elections due in September, the regime appeared to be in no mood to
listen – and determined to regain control after a week of near anarchy.
The strident tone was illustrated by a startling public rebuff to Barack
Obama. Rejecting his overnight demand that the promised political
transition and reforms begin without delay, the Egyptian foreign
ministry said bluntly that meddling by "foreign parties" was
unacceptable and was "aimed to incite the internal situation".
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Guardian, opposition leader
Mohamed ElBaradei said: "Today's violence is again an indication of a
criminal regime that has lost any commonsense. When the regime tries to
counter a peaceful demonstration by using thugs … there are few words
that do justice to this villainy and I think it can only hasten that
regime's departure." Mubarak's announcement had been "an act of
deception", he said. "But after today people are realising just what
they're dealing with."
The trouble began when tens of thousands of anti-government
demonstrators in Tahrir Square ignored orders from the army to disperse.
The army's move marked a change in tactics from previous days, when it
declined to intervene, describing the protests as legitimate, and troops
were feted by protesters.
At the same time Mubarak supporters, who had taken no part in events,
began to gather, travelling in cars or by foot, numbering in the tens of
thousands. Some said they had been bussed in from the countryside by
the regime and claimed they had no intention of initiating a
confrontation. Others said they had recently swapped sides, saying
Mubarak had made enough concessions and he should have time to usher in
Initial sparring between rival groups quickly turned into running
battles. Then, just before 2pm, armed with clubs, bats, knives and even
homemade spears, a pro-Mubarak demonstration that had been gathering for
several hours 800 metres from Tahrir Squareon the Nile Corniche,
outside the state television station, charged in.
Guardian journalists in the square – close to both sides – witnessed
pitched battles that turned the square into a warzone as anti-Mubarak
protesters tried desperately to hold their ground and both sides tore up
paving stones to use as weapons. Among those singled out for attack
were journalists including Anderson Cooper of CNN and two Associated
Press correspondents. A Belgian journalist – Maurice Sarfatti, who uses
the byline Serge Dumont – was reportedly beaten, arrested and accused of
At one stage tanks attempted to move between the two groups but did
little to stop the escalating clashes. In one incident soldiers moved
out of the way to permit pro-Mubarak demonstrators to reach their
opponents. By late afternoon, groups of men were on roofs in Champollion
Street, a few hundred metres away, hurling missiles down on those
At just after six o'clock automatic weapons fire was heard. Some
pro-Mubarak forces appeared to be plainclothes police, while others
involved in the assault in Tahrir Square were said to have been paid by
the regime. The interior ministry denied the reports, while the army
denied firing on protesters.
In other cities the regime fought back strongly. In Alexandria, Mubarak
supporters staged a furious counterprotest in a square that has seen
protests for nine days, sparking violent arguments and altercations
between rival groups.
The violence increased fears in western capitals that the crisis, far
from being defused, was taking a more sinister turn. David Cameron said:
"If it turns out that the regime in any way has been sponsoring or
tolerating this violence, that would be completely and utterly