Egypt's Army Appeals For Calm As Street Fights Erupt
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
(Soundbite of gunfire)
SIEGEL: Today, in Egypt, battles raged. A new chapter in the country's unrest began as supporters of President Hosni Mubarak took to the streets of Cairo and fought against protestors. Egyptian state television has been broadcasting an order for protestors to clear Tahrir Square, which they've occupied for days now.
NORRIS: It's not clear who issued that order or whether the government has the means or the will to enforce it. There are hundreds of injuries and the clashes continue.
NPR's Corey Flintoff is in Cairo and he traces the violence for us as it surged throughout the day.
COREY FLINTOFF: The day began with a pro-Mubarak rally outside the headquarters of Egyptian state television, not far from Tahrir Square.
(Soundbite of people shouting)
FLINTOFF: Hundreds of Mubarak supporters working themselves into a fury against the protestors who'd shaken the president's regime. Ahab Wari(ph), a 31-year-old cook, said the demonstrators were ready for a battle.
Mr. AHAB WARI: Because it is not our president only, it's our father. Mubarak is our president. He fight for us and we will fight for him.
FLINTOFF: Meanwhile, in Tahrir Square, opposition demonstrators felt the forces massing against them.
Professor DALIA BASILI: Not everybody, of course, a lot of them are thugs and gangs.
FLINTOFF: This is Dalia Basili(ph), a university professor who is among the thousands of people massed in the square.
Prof. BASILI: They are just trying to agitate people to get into a fight and direct attention - divert attention from the beautiful thing that is being born in Tahrir Square.
FLINTOFF: By early afternoon, the first groups of pro-Mubarak demonstrators were shouting slogans in the main street leading into the square. One of the opposition leaders, Nobel peace laureate Mohamed Elbaradei, accused the government of setting the scene for a battle.
Mr. MOHAMED ELBARADEI (Nobel Peace Laureate): This is yet another symptom or another implication of a criminal regime using criminal acts. You know, everybody has the right for a peaceful demonstration, but you don't get two opposing demonstrators face to face. I mean, then you are calling for violence. My fear is it will turn into a bloodbath. And particularly that we know that the guys who are supposedly so-called pro-Mubarak are a bunch of thugs.
FLINTOFF: At another entrance to the square, Mubarak supporters launched the first foray, a bizarre charge by riders mounted on horses and camels. The first wounded were led from the square - men with bloody head wounds. Some of the attackers were pulled from their mounts by anti-Mubarak demonstrators who hustled them through the crowd and turned them over to the soldiers standing at the edges of the square. As the fighting escalated, many of the soldiers took refuge in their tanks.
(Soundbite of protestors)
Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)
FLINTOFF: Scrums of angry opposition protestors also seized men they claimed were undercover police sent as agitators to start fights.
(Soundbite of protestors)
Unidentified Man #2: It's a conspired demand. It's a conspired demand.
FLINTOFF: Some of the anti-regime protestors were seen briefly beating at least one of the alleged agitators. But the crowd around them called out: Peacefully, peacefully. And the man was turned over to soldiers.
Internet service in the country was restored early in the day, and the growing battle was reported in thousands of Twitter messages from inside the square. One young man, Amin Nuar(ph), said he was tweeting in a state of despair.
Mr. AMIN NUAR: It's a mixture between watching people get killed and tweeting. Tweeting now seems insignificant when people are dying in front of you. We're just trying to get the message out that people are killing each other and they're being left to kill each other and the army is just sitting there watching.
FLINTOFF: By mid-afternoon, the pro-Mubarak forces jammed the streets around the square. Both sides threw broken paving stones, then Molotov cocktails that splashed flame along the streets. Soldiers fired tear gas and doused the flames with water cannon, but still did little to intervene.
(Soundbite of tear gas firing)
FLINTOFF: The battle reached its full fury before dusk and kept up for hours as the opposition built a defensive circle in the center of the square and fought to keep the pro-Mubarak forces from breaking through the streets around it.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Cairo.
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