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Middle East
Fresh violence feared in Egypt
A day after Mubarak loyalists assailed against pro-democracy protesters, Tahrir Square remains tense as crisis deepens.
Last Modified: 03 Feb 2011 09:31 GMT
Some pro-democracy demonstrators have called for clashes to stop. [AFP]

Egyptians in the capital were tense amid fears that renewed clashes could occur between pro-democracy protesters and President Hosni Mubarak's loyalists in the central Tahrir [Liberation] Square on Thursday.

Activists in Cairo confirmed there were more demonstrators – from both sides – on their way to the square, an Al Jazeera online producer said from the scene.

Car-loads of regime loyalists were reportedly headed towards Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the demonstrations. They seemed organised and commanded by ringleaders, Al Jazeera correspondents observed.

But army tanks had moved into positions protecting the pro-democracy protest camp in the square, in a more visible display than at Wednesday's demonstrations.

They also cleared pro-Mubarak supporters from the overpass overlooking the pro-democracy barricades, our producer said.

"The army has formed a human chain in front of the pro-democracy barricades, keeping the pro-Mubarak group away." All but one entrace to the square is blocked, he added.

The army told our producer it had orders not to allow anyone else into Tahrir Square, and to separate the pro-Mubarak and pro-democracy groups.

This comes after heavy gunfire aimed at pro-democracy demonstrators left seven people dead early on Thursday morning, according to local doctors. The government puts the figure at five deaths, but confirmed that about 800 people have been injured.

Investigation

Violent clashes began on Wednesday when Mubarak's supporters charged into Tahrir Square, clashing with the pro-democracy demonstrators gathered there for days.

Pro-democracy protesters began to defend themselves as camel and horse riding men forcefully barrelled their way into the square, which had been peaceful for more than a week. A bloody clash ensued as the assailing men used knives, clubs and other weapons.

Al Jazeera's special coverage of Egypt.

Ahmed Shafiq, Egypt's prime minister, apologised for Wednesday's events, saying there will be an investigation into the violence. This comes as the cabinet denied it played any role in the attacks against the pro-democracy demonstrators.

Shafiq also made an offer for talks with opposition parties. Although some groups accepted, Mohamed ElBaradei, the leading opposition figure rejected the offer until the demand for Mubarak to step down was met.

Negotiations are also being held between Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s vice-president, and national political forces, according to Egypt's state TV.

Meanwhile, five EU nations - Britain, France, Gernamy, Italy and Spain - released a joint statement urging an immediate political transition to end the violent unrest.

Fresh chants

On Thursday, the tenth day of protests, pro-democracy demonstrators in the square deviated from their regular chants calling for Mubarak to step down, and began to call for him to face the capital punishment, for what they say is a "murderous regime."

Some pro-democracy demonstrators called on their fellow protesters to cease clashing with pro-regime opponents, following the earlier bloody confrontations. But activists in Cairo confirmed pro-democracy protesters would again attend demonstrations on Thursday.

"There's not really anyone organising [Thursday's anti-Mubarak demonstration], but I've spoken to several people who are bringing groups of protesters with them," an activist called Karima told our producer.

While the pro-democracy camp seems to be a collection of individuals without a leader or any clear direction, Al Jazeera correspondents on the ground report that the regime loyalists had more guidance during Wednesday's clashes, with officers even directing them on the ground.

Army Arrests

Our online producer in Cairo visited an ad hoc 'prison' where on Wednesday, pro-democracy protesters had captured around six Mubarak loyalists.

The Egyptian army, widely praised for its restraint but chastised for not protecting peaceful protesters under assault on Wednesday, reportedly also arrested several people after a hail of gunfire was heard in the square early on Thursday.

It was not, however, confirmed which side of the Mubarak divide the army arrested from.

Meanwhile, a journalist in Alexandria told Al Jazeera that thousands of demonstrators were gathering in front of the leader Ibrahim mosque in support of the protesters in Tahrir Square. And in the city of Mansoura, a massive demonstration was held also calling for Mubarak to step down.

On Thursday, sixty-two Egyptian human rights organisations warned against internal violence in Egypt due to President Mubarak’s insistence to stay in office. 

The group called for the need for military intervention to protect the protesters, and a withdrawal of what they described as abuses by thugs and gunmen from the streets.

They added that they were suspicious of the seriousness of Mubarak's pledge to not seek re-election when his term expires in September, since this coincided with the attacks on demonstrators in Tahrir Square.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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