2 Feb 2011

Egypt: clashes between protesters and Mubarak supporters

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

Supporters of Egypt’s President Mubarak clash with protesters in the “battle for Tahrir Square” with hundreds hurt and three killed. Jonathan Rugman reports from Cairo.

Protesters, who have been on the streets for nine days clamouring for an end to President Hosni Mubarak‘s 30-year rule of Egypt, clashed with supporters of the president, who have come out in force for the first time.

A soldier and two other people were killed and more than 600 people hurt in the latest violent clashes. People fought in Cairo’s Tahrir Square with sticks and stones, while surrounding troops made no effort to intervene, witnesses said.

The protesters say they are prepared to die before they leave the square. Jonathan Rugman

Protesters from all sides have been asked to leave the square by the army – but there are still huge numbers moving around the area.

Battle for Tahrir Square – Channel 4 News live blog

Channel 4 News Correspondent Jonathan Rugman, in Cairo, said: “The protesters say they are prepared to die before they leave the square – and I have to say that I believe them.”

There have been reports that some of the pro-Mubarak group have been found with police identification – although Egypt’s Interior Ministry denied these allegations. Shots have also been heard in the square – but the army denied firing.

Channel 4 News Presenter Jon Snow, also in Cairo, suggested that the military plans to use water cannons to clear the square over night. Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, who has become a figurehead for the protesters, said he feared a “bloodbath”.

Clashes between protesters and Mubarak supporters in Egypt turn violent (Getty)

Election

Some had hoped that the President’s address to the nation last night, when he pledged not to stand for re-election in the September vote, would calm the situation – but for most protesters it has not gone far enough.

Any attack against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable and I strongly condemn it. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Jon Snow spoke to the Egyptian Finance Minister in Cairo, Samir Radwan, who insisted that the steps taken so far – which some suggest include ramping up public fears of problems with food shortages and empty cash machines – were to prevent “chaos”. Roads and rail routes have also been closed.

Mr Radwan said that the country was split, and added that the President felt he was responsible to manage the transition back to stability.

“The Egyptians are split between factions saying this is not enough and others saying what more do you want than the President saying I’m not running, there will be a dialogue on everything, all the files are open, that I have authorised the Vice-President to start a dialogue with all shades of political opinion,” he told Channel 4 News.

He said the role of Government now was to try and manage the situation and avoid “chaotic” transition.

International condemnation

The international community has condemned the violence on Tahrir Square. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged all sides to show restraint.

He said: “I am deeply concerned by the continuing violence in Egypt. I once again urge restraint to all the sides. Any attack against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable and I strongly condemn it,” he added.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said in Parliament that the transition “needs to start now”.

He said: “The transition needs to be rapid and credible and it needs to start now. We stand with those, in this country, who want freedom, who want democracy and rights the world over – that should always be our view.

“The more they can do with a timetable to convince people that it’s true, the more I think the country can settle down to a stable and more democratic future.”

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US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said on Twitter: “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.”

The West has supported Mubarak in the past as he was a key ally in a volatile region. But the withdrawal of their support will put further pressure on Mubarak.

Protests

The protesters have been on the streets of Cairo and other major cities in Egypt, such as Alexandria, for more than a week, protesting against Mubarak, corruption, oppression and economic hardship.

Our International Editor Lindsey Hilsum described being attacked by a mob as protests turned against the media in Alexandria.

An opposition coalition, which includes the Islamist organisation the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohammed ElBaradei, said there should be more protests, and added that it would only negotiate with Vice President Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence chief appointed by Mubarak at the weekend, once Mubarak stepped down.

For now, that appears to be something Mubarak is not prepared to do – but as his support from key allies like the United States dwindles, the protests and violent clashes continue.

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