International

Cairo's Tahrir Square Erupts

Anti-government protestors get caught by a petrol bomb thrown by pro President Mubarak supporters near Tahrir Square. i i

hide captionAnti-government protestors get caught by a petrol bomb thrown by pro President Mubarak supporters near Tahrir Square.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Anti-government protestors get caught by a petrol bomb thrown by pro President Mubarak supporters near Tahrir Square.

Anti-government protestors get caught by a petrol bomb thrown by pro President Mubarak supporters near Tahrir Square.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

A terrifying scene is playing out in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where all day and into the night (it's now 4:10 p.m. ET) men have been attacking protesters who have been camped out in the square for more than a week, and some of those protesters have been fighting back as others try to protect themselves.

Rocks and petrol bombs have been thrown. Fists have been flying. Sticks and machetes have been wielded. Foreign reporters have been attacked.

The short-hand version of what's happening is that the attackers support President Hosni Mubarak and want revenge on the anti-Mubarak protesters. Egyptian Army solders seem to be either unwilling to or not capable of stopping the attacks. Events on the ground are surely more complicated than that.

Late yesterday, as we wrote, Mubarak said he will not run for re-election in September — but that he plans to stay in office until after a new president is elected and sworn in. Those who have been demanding that he leave now aren't satisfied. We're updating this post as things happen. Click "refresh" to make sure your'e seeing our latest additions:

Update at 7:46 p.m. ET: It's 2:46 a.m. in Cairo. We're going to pause the live blog now. We'll be back bright and early to bring you the latest. But we'll leave you with a graph posted by Matthew Yglesias from Think Progress. It shows why Egypt matters on the world stage:

A graph showing Arab population.
Matthew Yglesias

He adds:

The point is that a more open Egypt would have a huge cultural impact simply because such a large share of the Arab audience is an Egyptian audience. It's also worth noting that the last time Egypt had a promising new post-revolutionary regime (i.e., in the 1950s), it swiftly used the combination of ideological vigor and demographic weight to identify the overall Arab cause with the Egyptian state.

Update at 7:03 p.m. ET: The AP provides video of some of the dramatic moments of today's clashes in Tahrir Square. It includes ground-level footage of Mubarak supporters charging the crowd on horses and camels:

YouTube

Update at 5:50 p.m. ET: Throughout the day, we've heard reports of anti-government protesters detaining and taking police identification from pro-Mubarak protesters. The New York Times reports on more signs that pro-regime protesters are organized by the government:

Signs that the pro-Mubarak forces were organized and possibly professional were abundant. When the melee broke out, a group of them tried to corner a couple of journalists in an alley to halt their reporting. Their assaults on the protesters seemed to come in well-timed waves. Protesters said that some of the Mubarak supporters carried police identification.

Some protesters also reported that they had been approached with offers of 50 Egyptian pounds, about $8.50, to carry pro-Mubarak placards. "Fifty pounds for my country?" one woman said, in apparent disbelief.

A wounded man in Tahir Square today (Feb. 2, 2011). i i

hide captionA wounded man in Tahir Square today (Feb. 2, 2011).

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
A wounded man in Tahir Square today (Feb. 2, 2011).

A wounded man in Tahir Square today (Feb. 2, 2011).

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Update at 4 p.m. ET: Al Jazeera says that the "clashes in Tahrir Square [are] being described as medieval. Anti-government supporters are moving makeshift metal barricades slowly forward, one by one."

Guardian contributor Jack Shenker says in this AudioBoo report that the fighting looks like it will continue all night:

Today's edition of All Things Considered will include a report by NPR's Corey Flintoff from the scene. And host Robert Siegel talks with Essam al-Aryan, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Aryan tells Robert that the organization would not push to "renounce" Egypt's peace treaty with Israel in a post-Mubarak world, though it would push for a "review" of Egyptian-Israeli relations. Still, he says there is no chance of renewed hostilities between those two nations and says it is a lie to suggest (as Mubarak has in the past) that the Brotherhood is an Islamic fundamentalist group that would push to turn Egypt into another Iran:

Robert Siegel speaks with Muslim Brotherhood's Essam al-Aryan

Update at 3:25 p.m. ET: "There's much more gunfire coming from parts of Cairo," the BBC's Lyse Doucet just said as she anchoraged coverage from a rooftop in the city.

Update at 3:15 p.m. ET: Fire bombs are being dropped around Tahrir Square again, as video on the cable news networks shows. And Al Jazeera says "black smoke [is] billowing up from somewhere very close to the eastern wall of the Egyptian Museum, among pro-Mubarak crowd."

Update at 2:15 p.m. ET. Mubarak Will "Tough It Out":

The BBC reports that "a close adviser to President Hosni Mubarak" says the president is determined to "tough it out."

it adds that: the adviser says Mubarak "will not give in to demands that he step down immediately. He was speaking to our correspondent, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, who went to the wealthy Cairo suburb of Heliopolis to meet him - and was then detained by Egypt's secret police."

Update at 1:22 p.m. ET: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs just repeated that the time for a "transition" in Egypt "is now." We're following his briefing over here.

Update at 1:10 p.m. ET. More video from the Associated Press, capturing some of the chaos as day turned into night:

Associated Press/YouTube

Update at 12:55 p.m. ET: Hundreds Injured.

NBC News' Richard Engel reports via Twitter that "Ministry of Health update 403 injured, 1 dead.. Suspect its higher".

Update at 12:45 p.m. ET: Australian TV journalist Hamish Macdonald writes on this Twitter page that: "Loud bang just came from Tahrir square. People running away. Flaming object thrown from building above square."

Update at 12:05 p.m. ET: It looks like the government or people acting on its behalf is trying to limit the news media's ability to cover the story.

Australia TV journalist Hamish Macdonald just tweeted that:

"Hotel security just entered our room and told us we are not allowed to have cameras on balcony."

And StoryFulPro says it is seeing "multiple reports of security going through Hotel rooms telling journalists to stop filming from balconies and taking equipment."

Update at 11:45 a.m. ET: CNN's Ben Wedeman is also not holding back on accusing the Mubarak regime. He tweets that a "government-sanctioned mass lynch [is] underway in Tahrir Square."

Update at 11:40 a.m. ET. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff, who is in Cairo and has been at Tahrir Square today, says its "absurd" to think the Mubarak government is not behind today's violence. He writes that:

"Today President Mubarak seems to have decided to crack down on the democracy movement, using not police or army troops but rather mobs of hoodlums and thugs. I've been spending hours on Tahrir today, and it is absurd to think of this as simply 'clashes' between two rival groups. The pro-democracy protesters are unarmed and have been peaceful at every step. But the pro-Mubarak thugs are arriving in buses and are armed — and they're using their weapons."

Update at 11:15 a.m. ET: Molotov cocktails are flying. CNN's Anderson Cooper says he's only seeing them coming from those who are attacking the anti-Mubarak protesters, not the other way around.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the scene that many in the "anti-Mubarak" side suspect the government is behind the attacks — or is at least tolerating them:

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro

Update at 11 a.m. ET: CNN says White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told the network this morning that Egypt's transition "needs to begin now":

"White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told CNN, 'We continue to watch the events very closely, and it underscores that the transition needs to begin now.' Pressed on whether the administration is pulling further away from President Hosni Mubarak, Gibbs would only say that President Obama and other officials have made clear in recent days there needs to be 'real change' in Egypt."

Update at 10:55 a.m. ET: Night has fallen and it's easy to see on CNN and the other news networks now that Molotov cocktails have been thrown. Flames are lighting up Tahrir Square.

Update at 10:47 a.m. ET. White House Condemns The Violence.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs just released this statement:

"The United States deplores and condemns the violence that is taking place in Egypt, and we are deeply concerned about attacks on the media and peaceful demonstrators. We repeat our strong call for restraint."

Update at 10:35 a.m. ET: Reuters reports that "Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei called on Wednesday on the army to intervene to protect Egyptians, after clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, Al Jazeera television said. 'I ask the army to intervene to protect Egyptian lives,' the station quoted him as saying, adding he said it should intervene 'today' and not remain neutral."

ElBaradei, who has said he is willing to lead a transitional government, also repeated his call for Mubarak to leave office by Friday, when anti-government protesters have called a day of "departure" for the Egyptian leader.

Update at 10:30 a.m. ET. Reminder: NPR's Any Carvin continues to curate Twitter reports from the scene. Click here to see his list.

Update at 10:25 a.m. ET. The violence continues. The AP has posted this raw video, which captures some of the chaos:

Associated Press/YouTube

Update at 9:35 a.m. ET: The Army may be taking action. Tear gas has been fired, CNN reports.

Update at 9:20 a.m. ET. Reuters' latest story begins with this:

"Supporters of Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak riding camels and horses, wielding whips and sticks, ploughed into protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Wednesday."

Update at 9 a.m. ET: CNN's Anderson Cooper reports that shots can be heard coming from Tahrir Square.

Update at 8:45 a.m. ET: Al Arabiya reports that "some protesters attacked Al Arabiya team in the Cairo protest and Al Arabiya correspondent Ahmed Bagatu was taken to the hospital."

Update at 8:25 a.m. ET: StoryFulPro continues to curate Twitter feeds from reporters in Cairo. It just posted this:

"Thousands of people are now moving towards Tahrir Square across bridges. Reporters suggest they are anti-Mubarak demonstrators"

Update at 8:20 a.m. ET: "I have seen several injured — people covered in blood, being taken out of the square," reports NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who is at the scene. "We are definitely seeing casualties."

Update at 8:16 a.m. ET: CNN's Anderson Cooper says he and his crew were attacked by pro-Mubarak supporters as they tried to report from the scene. "I was hit in the head about 10 times," Cooper says. "Clearly they do not want cameras" to record what's going on. Meanwhile, he says, "the Egyptian military is standing by" and not intervening.

Update at 8:13 a.m. ET: The Egyptian Army is not preventing people — pro- or anti-Mubarak — from entering Tahrir Square, an Al Jazeera correspondent on the scene reports.

Update at 8:04 a.m. ET: Al Jazeera reports that some Mubarak supporters are riding camels.

Update at 8 a.m. ET: Some supporters of Mubarak are arriving on horseback, as this photo shows: http://twitpic.com/3vr613

Update at 7:55 a.m. ET: Soldiers are starting to emerge from their tanks and personnel carriers, and some of those vehicles are being moved between the two sides, an Al Jazeera correspondent just reported. She says the soldiers are starting to tell the pro-Mubarak demonstrators to stop their attacks. "They're telling people 'enough, enough,' " she says, and are not brandishing any guns at this point.

Update at 7:50 a.m. ET: Al Jazeera correspondent on the scene says she's seeing lots of rocks flying back and forth.

Update at 7:45 a.m. ET: Al Jazeera English's live coverage is streaming here.

Update at 7:40 a.m. ET: "Pretty much all hell has broken loose here in Tahrir Square," says CNN's Ivan Watson.

Update at 7:35 a.m. ET: CNN's Ben Wedeman reports from the scene that there are no police in the square to help stop the fighting and that Egyptian Army soldiers are not moving to restore order. Stones are being thrown and TV images show some smoke rising in spots.

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