Shielded by a broken bucket, a protester throws a stone at Mubarak supporters in Tahrir Square in Cairo. (Reuters)
Cairo, Feb. 3: In the shadow of the Egyptian Museum, which houses the treasures of 6,000 years of civilisation, mobs loyal to President Hosni Mubarak brought shame to a great nation as they attacked peacefully protesting compatriots in what will long be remembered as the Battle for Tahrir Square.
On Tuesday, the great open space was the scene of a good-natured demonstration by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demanding the end of Mubaraks dictatorial rule. Yesterday, it witnessed something akin to civil war as the Presidents supporters tried to seize it.
Today, protesters and regime supporters waged a second round of rock-throwing battles at the central Cairo square while new lawlessness spread around the city. Looting and arson erupted, and gangs of thugs supporting Mubarak attacked reporters, foreigners and rights workers while the army rounded up foreign journalists.
The concerted effort to remove journalists lent a sense of foreboding to events in Tahrir Square or Liberation Square. People bringing food, water and medicine to the protesters in the square were being stopped by Mubarak supporters who confiscated what they had and threw some of it into the Nile.
Earlier, a sense of victory ran through the protesters after they succeeded in keeping their hold on the square and pushing back their attackers.
Thank God, we managed to protect the whole area, said Abdul-Rahman, a taxi driver who was among thousands who stayed hunkered in the square through the night.
Mubarak has told Christiane Amanpour of ABC that he wants to leave office now but cannot for fear the country will sink deeper into chaos.
The anti-Mubarak movement has vowed to intensify protests to force the President out by Friday.
The government increasingly spread an image that foreigners were fuelling the turmoil and supporting the tens of thousands in the street.
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, Vice-President Omar Suleiman said in an interview on state TV.
Vodafone said Egyptian authorities forced it to broadcast pro-government text messages during the protests. A text message marked as coming from Vodafone had appealed to the countrys honest and loyal men to confront the traitors and criminals and protect our people and honour.
Under an onslaught of international condemnation for Wednesdays assault on protesters by pro-Mubarak rioters that sparked the renewed wave of turmoil, the government offered a series of gestures trying to calm the fury.
The Prime Minister apologised for Wednesdays assault and acknowledged it may have been organised. The Vice-President promised that Mubaraks son Gamal would not run to succeed his father in presidential elections in September and offered to hold negotiations on the countrys future even with the regimes biggest domestic enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many dismissed the government concessions, which would have been stunning even a month ago, and said they wanted nothing less than Mubarak to go now.
The gestures appeared likely to be drowned out by the chaos around Tahrir. Bands of Mubarak supporters moved through side streets around Tahrir, trading volleys of stone-throwing with the protesters and attacking cars to stop supplies from reaching the protest camp. One band stopped a car, ripped open the trunk and found boxes of juice, water and food, which they took before forcing the driver to flee.
At least eight people have been killed and hundreds wounded in and around Tahrir.
In the morning, the military took its first muscular action to halt the fighting after standing by without interfering since the fighting began. They moved after heavy barrages of automatic gunfire over the course of two hours before dawn killed five protesters in a serious escalation.
But when clashes resumed in the afternoon, the soldiers disappeared from the streets, moving inside their tanks and armoured vehicles. Every once in a while, protesters would wrestle a Mubarak supporter to the ground, search him for an ID, then raise the card in the air to prove he was a police officer or ruling party member.