Gunfire pounds anti-Mubarak protest camp in Cairo
(AP) – 1 hour ago
CAIRO (AP) — Automatic weapons fire pounded the anti-government protest
camp in Cairo's Tahrir Square before dawn on Thursday in a dramatic
escalation of what appeared to be a well-orchestrated series of assaults
on the demonstrators. At least three protesters were killed by gunfire,
according to one of the activists.
Hours after the shooting ended, the army, which protesters have
criticized for failing to intervene to protect them, moved four tanks to
clear a highway overpass from where supporters of President Hosni
Mubarak had continued hurling rocks and firebombs onto the protesters.
It was not immediately clear if the steps were part of a wider decision for the army to begin protecting the demonstrations.
The crowds seeking an end to Mubarak's nearly three decades in power
were still reeling from attacks hours earlier in which Mubarak
supporters charged into the square on horses and camels, lashing people
with whips, while others rained firebombs and rocks from rooftops.
The protesters accused Mubarak's regime of unleashing a force of paid
thugs and plainclothes police to crush their unprecedented nine-day-old
movement, a day after the 82-year-old president refused to step down.
They showed off police ID badges they said were wrested from their
attackers. Some government workers said their employers ordered them
into the streets.
The violence intensified overnight, as sustained bursts of automatic
gunfire and powerful single shots rained into the square starting at
around 4 a.m. and continuing for more than two hours.
Protest organizer Mustafa el-Naggar said he saw the bodies of three dead
protesters being carried toward an ambulance. He said the gunfire came
from at least three locations in the distance and that the Egyptian
military, which has ringed the square with tank squads for days to try
to keep some order, did not intervene.
Footage from AP Television News appeared to show two more dead bodies
being dragged along the highway overpass where the Mubarak supporters
A tank spread a thick smoke screen along the overpass, just to the north
of the square, in an apparent attempt to deprive attackers of a high
vantage point. The two sides seemed to be battling for control of the
overpass, which leads to a main bridge over the Nile.
At daybreak, the two sides were still battling with rocks and flaming
bottles of gasoline along the front line on the northern edge of the
square, near the famed Egyptian Museum.
Demonstrators took cover behind makeshift barricades of corrugated metal
sheeting taken from a nearby construction site and Mubarak supporters
held their ground on the overpass until tanks managed to clear them away
and seal off the bridge. Between the two sides stretched a burning
no-man's-land of smoldering cars, hunks of concrete and fires.
Two empty troop carriers were burning in front of the museum, though it wasn't clear if they were targeted purposely.
Farther back in the square, around 4,000 protesters were holding out. A
man with a microphone called out the names of the missing — most of them
children — from the hours of clashes.
At an open-air clinic in the middle of the square, doctors treated the
injured. Dr. Amr el-Yamani said most had suffered head injuries from
The demonstrators appeared to be growing more enraged at the military's
failure to protect them. Soldiers fired occasional shots in the air
throughout Wednesday's clashes but did not appear to otherwise intervene
and no uniformed police were seen.
"This army is part of the regime," complained Said Mohammed, an unemployed 50-year-old protester.
The fighting began more than 12 hours earlier, turning the celebratory
atmosphere in the square over the previous day into one of terror and
sending a stream of wounded to makeshift clinics in mosques and
alleyways on the anti-government side. Three people died in the violence
on Wednesday and 600 were injured.
Mustafa el-Fiqqi, a senior official from the ruling National Democratic
Party, told The Associated Press that businessmen connected to the
ruling party were responsible for what happened.
The notion that the state may have coordinated violence against
protesters, who had kept a peaceful vigil in Tahrir Square for five
days, prompted a sharp rebuke from the Obama administration.
"If any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop
immediately," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
The clashes marked a dangerous new phase in Egypt's upheaval: the first
significant violence between government supporters and opponents. The
crisis took a sharp turn for the worse almost immediately after Mubarak
rejected the calls for him to give up power or leave the country,
stubbornly proclaiming he would die on Egyptian soil.
His words were a blow to the protesters. They also suggest that
authorities want to turn back the clock to the tight state control
enforced before the protests began.
Mubarak's supporters turned up on the streets Wednesday in significant
numbers for the first time. Some were hostile to journalists and
foreigners. Two Associated Press correspondents and several other
journalists were roughed up in Cairo. State TV had reported that
foreigners were caught distributing anti-Mubarak leaflets, apparently
trying to depict the movement as foreign-fueled.
The scenes of mayhem were certain to add to the fear that is already
running high in this capital of 18 million people after a weekend of
looting and lawlessness and the escape of thousands of prisoners from
jails in the chaos.
Some of the worst street battles on Wednesday raged near the Egyptian
Museum at the edge of the square. Pro-government rioters blanketed the
rooftops of nearby buildings and hurled bricks and firebombs onto the
crowd below — in the process setting a tree ablaze inside the museum
grounds. Plainclothes police at the building entrances prevented
anti-Mubarak protesters from storming up to stop them.
The two sides pummeled each other with chunks of concrete and bottles at
each of the six entrances to the sprawling plaza, where 10,000
anti-Mubarak protesters tried to fend off more than 3,000 attackers who
besieged them. Some on the pro-government side waved machetes, while the
square's defenders filled the air with a ringing battlefield din by
banging metal fences with sticks.
In one almost medieval scene, a small contingent of pro-Mubarak forces
on horseback and camels rushed into the anti-government crowds,
trampling several people and swinging whips and sticks. Protesters
dragged some riders from their mounts, throwing them to the ground and
beating their faces bloody. The horses and camels appeared to be ones
used to give tourists rides around Cairo.
Dozens of men and women pried up pieces of the pavement with bars and
ferried the piles of ammunition in canvas sheets to their allies at the
front. Others directed fighters to streets needing reinforcements.
The protesters used a subway station as a makeshift prison for the
attackers they managed to catch. They tied the hands and legs of their
prisoners and locked them inside. People grabbed one man who was
bleeding from the head, hit him with their sandals and threw him behind a
Some protesters wept and prayed in the square where only a day before
they had held a joyous, peaceful rally of a quarter-million, the largest
demonstration so far.
Egyptian Health Minister Ahmed Sameh Farid said three people died and at
least 611 were injured in Tahrir Square on Wednesday. One of those
killed fell from a bridge near the square; Farid said the man was in
civilian clothes but may have been a member of the security forces.
Farid did not say how the other two victims, both young men, were
killed. It was not clear whether they were government supporters or
After years of tight state control, protesters emboldened by the
uprising in Tunisia took to the streets on Jan. 25 and mounted a
once-unimaginable series of demonstrations across this nation of 80
million. For the past few days, protesters who camped out in Tahrir
Square reveled in a new freedom — publicly expressing their hatred for
the Mubarak regime.
"After our revolution, they want to send people here to ruin it for us,"
said Ahmed Abdullah, a 47-year-old lawyer in the square.
Another man shrieked through a loudspeaker: "Hosni has opened the door for these thugs to attack us."
The pressure for demonstrators to clear the square mounted throughout
the day, beginning early when a military spokesman appeared on state TV
and asked them to disperse so life in Egypt could get back to normal.
It was a change in attitude by the army, which for the past few days had
allowed protests to swell with no interference and even made a
statement saying they had a legitimate right to demonstrate peacefully.
Then the regime began to rally its supporters in significant numbers for
the first time, demanding an end to the protest movement. Some 20,000
Mubarak supporters held an angry but mostly peaceful rally on Wednesday
across the Nile River from Tahrir, responding to calls on state TV.
They said Mubarak's concessions were enough. He has promised not to run
for re-election in September, named a new government and appointed a
vice president for the first time, widely considered his designated
They were bitter at the jeers hurled at Mubarak.
"I feel humiliated," said Mohammed Hussein, a 31-year-old factory
worker. "He is the symbol of our country. When he is insulted, I am
The anti-Mubarak movement has vowed to intensify protests to force him out by Friday.
State TV said Vice President Omar Suleiman called "on the youth to heed
the armed forces' call and return home to restore order." From the other
side, senior anti-Mubarak figure Mohamed ElBaradei demanded the
military "intervene immediately and decisively to stop this massacre."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke with Suleiman to condemn
the violence and urge Egypt's government to hold those responsible for
it accountable, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
AP correspondents Hadeel al-Shalchi, Sarah El Deeb, Hamza Hendawi, Diaa
Hadid, Lee Keath and Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.