Mubarak Warns Of 'Chaos' If He Leaves Office Early

An Egyptian anti-government demonstrator battles pro-government opponents in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Thursday. i i

An Egyptian anti-government demonstrator battles pro-government opponents in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Thursday. Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
An Egyptian anti-government demonstrator battles pro-government opponents in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Thursday.

An Egyptian anti-government demonstrator battles pro-government opponents in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Thursday.

Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, as supporters and opponents of his regime clashed in the streets of Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he would like to step down from office immediately but warned that his country "would sink into chaos" if he did so.

In an interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour, Mubarek said his government was not responsible for the violent clashes in Cairo that continued into the night Thursday. He also said he did not intend to leave Egypt even after he leaves office.

"I would never run away," he told ABC. "I will die on this soil."

In Cairo, soldiers stationed near anti-government demonstrators took action after the demonstrators were hit with a barrage of deadly automatic weapons fire before dawn, killing at least three protesters.

Troops fanned out to form a buffer zone between pro- and anti-government marchers in Tahrir Square in central Cairo, but then stepped aside hours later as anti-government protesters surged forward to resume fighting with Mubarak supporters.

With volleys of stones, the opposition protesters pushed back their rivals and swarmed onto a nearby highway overpass that Mubarak backers had used the day before as high ground to rain down paving stones and firebombs.

There also were numerous reports Thursday of foreign journalists being beaten and detained in what the White House called "a concerted campaign" to silence the international media.

Earlier in the day, a team from NPR, reporting far from Cairo's Tahrir Square, was surrounded, beaten and chased off, correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro said.

"Eventually, the army was called and they escorted us to safety," the reporter said, adding that the experience was "pretty typical of what many journalists have been seeing across the city."

Other news organizations that reported attacks on their reporters included CNN, Al-Jazeera, CBS and the BBC. The Washington Post and The New York Times said their reporters were arrested by Egypt's Interior Ministry. At some hotels, there were reports that government security agents were searching journalists' rooms and confiscating their equipment.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the violence against journalists "unacceptable under any circumstances."

"There is a clear responsibility by the Egyptian government, including the army, to protect those threatened and to hold accountable those responsible for these attacks," she said. "The Egyptian government must demonstrate its willingness to ensure journalists' ability to report on these events to the people of Egypt and to the world."

Also Thursday, Egypt's vice president pleaded with opposition protesters to end their demonstration in Cairo's main square, but he struck a defiant note in the face of international pressure for an immediate start to political reforms.

Omar Suleiman made his plea in an interview on Egypt's state-run television, insisting that the protesters have gotten what they wanted. He urged them to stop the mass movement that has shaken Mubarak's rule and cost the country's economy at least $1 billion in tourist business.

He also dismissed calls from U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and European leaders who had called for an immediate transition to a broad-based government. Suleiman said Egypt would not accept intervention in its internal affairs.

"When there are demonstrations of this size, there will be foreigners who come and take advantage and they have an agenda to raise the energy of the protesters," he said.

Suleiman also told journalists Thursday that the government had invited the long-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to enter negotiations but that the Islamic organization remained "hesitant" to take advantage of such a "valuable opportunity."

In another move to ease the unrest, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq took the unprecedented step of apologizing for the Tahrir Square violence by pro-Mubarak supporters, some of whom charged through the square cavalry-style on horses and camels.

Shafiq called the assault by government supporters a "million percent wrong" and promised to investigate who was behind it.

Protesters had shielded themselves with metal sheets pulled from nearby shops as the sky was lit by streaks of fire from Molotov cocktails during a 15-hour spasm of violence that began Wednesday.

Egypt's Health Ministry said six people were killed overnight and 836 wounded.

The notion that the state may have coordinated violence against protesters, whose vigil in Tahrir Square had been peaceful for days, prompted a sharp rebuke from Washington, which has considered Egypt its most important Arab ally and sends it $1.5 billion a year in aid.

"If any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

At a National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Obama called for prayers "that a better day will come to Egypt."

Even as the army appeared to be cracking down on violence, more pro-government demonstrators were arriving. "Hundreds of men" were lined up at one checkpoint manned by Mubarak supporters as they waited to get into the square, NPR's Corey Flintoff reported.

"They seem to be showing some sort of ID and they're going through. I've seen some men carrying cardboard boxes and bags," Flintoff said. "It's impossible to tell what they're carrying, whether it's food or weapons of some sort. But there seems to be [a] fairly well-organized effort to fill the street that leads to the square with pro-Mubarak demonstrators."

The anti-Mubarak movement, which has carried out an unprecedented 10 days of protests bringing as many as a quarter-million people into Tahrir Square, has vowed to intensify protests to force him out by Friday.

Medhat Saad, an Egyptologist and tour operator who spoke to NPR by phone from his home in Cairo, said the prisons have been emptied and criminals were running the streets.

"We are just guarding the whole neighborhood," he said, adding that he had no idea how or why the inmates had been released.

Saad, who participated in the first days of the anti-Mubarak protests, said he and his family are holed up in their home waiting for Mubarak to quit and the violence to end. But he is not optimistic.

"I started thinking seriously to leave the country, actually," he told NPR. "It's a hopeless case. What happens if this man stays in power — it will be a disaster for Egypt."

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro and Corey Flintoff reported from Cairo for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press

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