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Pro & anti Mubarak clash
RANIA /CAIRO, Feb 3 (PTI/AGENCIES):
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Published on 4 Feb. 2011 12:31 AM IST
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Firing from assault rifles targeted anti-government protesters in the Egyptian capital’s Tahrir Square today apparently from supporters of the embattled President, killing at least six people and injuring 836 as violence escalated just a day before the opposition’s proposed massive rally on Friday to oust Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt’s prime minister Ahmed Shafiq has apologised for the fighting between pro- and anti-government demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Shafiq pledged to investigate the violence, calling it a “fatal error”.
“This is a fatal error,” Shafiq told the privately-owned al-Hayat television. “When investigations reveal who is behind this crime and who allowed it to happen, I promise they will be held accountable and will be punished for what they did.”
Pre-dawn gunfire lasted for two hours as anti-government demonstrators tried to stay in control of the square.
The Egyptian army arrested people after violence was sparked by supporters loyal to Mubarak in Tahrir square on Thursday, Al Arabiya television reported, without giving numbers. Anti-government protesters who had camped out in the square after a peaceful protest on Tuesday have called on the army to intervene. When the violence erupted on Wednesday soldiers had not intervened. Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak had opened fire on protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Thursday, killing four people and wounding 13, witnesses and television said. It was the biggest spike in violence since protesters angered by oppression and hardship launched an unprecedented challenge to Mubarak’s 30-year-rule 10 days ago. Many accused the government of backing the pro-Mubarak supporters.
Still reeling from Wednesday’s attack in which Mubarak supporters charged into the square on horses and camels, the opposition protesters were fired upon from a bridge near the square, killing three people on the spot, to bring the death toll to six in the last 24 hours.
The protesters refusing to quit from the Tahrir Square, which has become a hub of ‘Down Mubarak’ campaign, were fired upon at 4 am this morning and opposition spokesman claimed that violence was being unleashed by a force of paid thugs and plain clothes police to crush an unprecedented nine-day-old movement.
Witnesses reported at least three bodies being carried away in ambulances and said gunfire rained into the square from at least three directions and that the military deployed heavily did not intervene.
Pitched battles were also reported between pro-and anti-Mubarak groups for the control of a high vantage overpass leading to the square.
The clashing groups also hurled rocks and bombs at each other.
The fighting between the groups erupted 12 hours earlier as pro-Mubarak supporters charged with whips into the protesters, while others rained fire bombs and rocks from rooftops.
Soldiers ringing the square from all sides with tanks and armoured carriers fired occasionally in the air throughout the night but did not otherwise intervene.
The violence came after a beleaguered President went on air on Tuesday to say that he would not stand for re-election in September, but refused to quit immediately, triggering an ultimatum by the protesters setting Friday as a deadline for him to step down.
Mubarak, 82, has been in power since 1981. The unceasing violence has witnessed a sharp escalation of attacks on Western media men, which has come in for strong condemnation by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Western governments.

Egypt PM apologises for violence
The protesters are demanding that President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled for 30 years, step down immediately.
Egypt’s Health Minister Ahmed Samih Farid said earlier that five people had died in the fighting, which began on Wednesday, and 836 were injured - mostly as the result of stone throwing and attacks with metal rods and sticks.

“There is no excuse whatsoever to attack peaceful protesters, and that is why I am apologising,” he said, urging the protesters “to go home to help end this crisis”.
Mubarak has said that he will serve out his current presidential term, which ends in September, but will not run for re-election.
Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood have rejected government calls for negotiations, saying Mubarak must leave office first.
Meanwhile, the leaders of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain issued a joint statement condemning the violence and calling for a political transition that “must start now”.
On Wednesday, groups fought pitched battles in Cairo, in the worst violence in 10 days of protests.
There’s another tense day ahead.
We’ve moved around to other side of Tahrir Square. There’s more movement by the military, with armoured vehicles moving around, but not the numbers you’d have thought would be needed to bring control.
There has been gunfire, ambulances on site, people been dragged out, stones and Molotov cocktails being thrown.
The numbers of those here in support of the president is fewer than we saw yesterday, so the question remains whether we’ll see more of those or more anti-government protesters today.
The unrest has left about 300 people dead across the country, according to UN estimates.
Cairo’s Tahrir Square has been the main focus of the protests, and a group of anti-Mubarak protesters remains hemmed in there by barricades.
They said they had detained 120 people with ID cards linking them with police or the ruling party, most of whom had been caught attacking demonstrators on Tahrir Square.
The BBC’s Jon Leyne in Cairo cites a retired general who has been speaking to tank crews on the square as saying the army was losing patience, and if firing continued from pro-government supporters, it was willing to fire on them.
Those attacking them appear to be either police who have taken off their uniforms or plain-clothes “thugs”, our correspondent says.
There were petrol bombs being lobbed during the night and now this morning there’s been gunfire.
The military leadership seems deeply uncomfortable with what is happening, adds our correspondent; they do not want to turn on protesters but they are not willing to defy the president either.
The US has urged all Americans in Egypt to leave “immediately”.
Speaking to the BBC early on Thursday, Mona Seif, a protester, described the atmosphere as “very tense”.
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“Every couple of minutes we hear a sequence of gunshots, and it’s only on one side of the square, which is the one close to Cairo Museum. This is where the clashes have been going on for more than five hours now, completely non-stop,” she said.
Wednesday’s violence began when thousands of supporters of President Mubarak surged into the square.
Pro-Mubarak camp ‘well-organised’ US ‘concerned’ at violence Square’s place in history ‘We are falling one-by-one’ “They started throwing stones at us,” said a pro-government protester named as Zaccaria. “Then some of us started throwing stones at them and then we chased them out of the square. They returned once again with the horses and the whips and the thugs.”
Opposition supporters say many in the pro-government camp were paid by the authorities to demonstrate, and allowed into the square by the troops surrounding it.
The two sides pelted each other with stones in running battles lasting for hours.
Egyptian troops refused to intervene, but fired into the air to try to disperse people. On Wednesday, they called for demonstrators to return to their homes, a call which was reiterated by Vice-President Omar Suleiman.
Clashes were also reported in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman in a phone call on Wednesday that the clashes were a “shocking development” after days of peaceful protests.
She also “underscored the important role that the Egyptian armed forces have played in exercising restraint in the face of peaceful demonstrations”, the state department said in a statement.
The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says he was handcuffed, blindfolded and interrogated by Egyptian secret police, before being released after three hours.
He says that the authorities’ attitude appears to be hardening and the ruling elite are fighting back.
The violence drew condemnation from British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“If it turns out that the regime in any way has sponsored or tolerated this violence, that is completely unacceptable,” he said after meeting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in London.
Ban said: “Any attack against the peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable and I strongly condemn it.”
If Mubarak does not step down, demonstrators have planned to march on the presidential palace on Friday.
Meanwhile, internet services were returning to the country, having been cut off for days by the government.

 
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