Violence Erupts As Pro-Mubarak Supporters Flood Tahrir Square [Updated]


About 20,000 Mubarak supporters are filling Tahrir Square, some of them on horses and camels, setting off violent brawls with protesters who want the Egyptian president to resign immediately. "It seems to have been heavily choreographed," the Guardian's Peter Beaumont says live from Cairo, adding:

"There is a fight of some kind of going on right in front of me. I'm assuming that it's pro and anti Mubarak supporters. The security services are just sitting on their tanks watching. You can't help feeling that it has all been heavily coordinated. It's an extraordinary turnaround."

Already at least fifteen people have been injured. Al Jazeera English's correspondent Dan Nolan says he hasn't seen weapons bigger than a rock or stick, but tweeted, "Clashes erupt now, rocks sticks flying in each direction. 8 people pulling out to anti mubarak side with bloody heads."

Beaumont said: "I've seem one guy with pole with a knife attached to it. It's quite clear some of these people came prepared for a violent confrontation."

The AFP reported that Mubarak supporters charged opponents on horses and camels. People tried to pull off the riders, but not before one cameraman was trampled, according to Al Jazeera English's live feed, with angry pro-Mubarak supporters chanting "Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera!" and trying to seek out camera crews and reporters.

It's an alarming change from yesterday's peaceful protests. Writer Ahdaf Soueif e-mailed the Guardian, saying:

In Tahrir Square, the army has pulled its positions well back into the square instead of at the peripheries and have stopped guarding the entrances to the square. The army's no longer checking the IDs of those who enter the square nor are they checking them for weapons.

The Guardian's Peter Beaumont added:

There is no question in my mind that they police, they are central security forces. These are the same guys that were out in force all last week and they have filtered back in again.

Egypt's protests on Twitter [Al Jazeera English]
Egypt protests - live updates [Guardian UK]
Live blog Feb 2 - Egypt protests [Al Jazeera English]

Updated: Tahrir Square has become a chaotic street battle over who will control Egypt, as the army stands back, "letting it happen," reports Al Jazeera English. Although the anti-government protesters still appear to control the center of the square, at the periphery Mubarak's supporters are fashioning weapons out of bricks, rocks, and chairs and attacking from the tops of buildings. Three army tanks are close to the supporters, with both sides eager to claim the military has taken up their cause.

Sounding desperate, an Al Jazeera English reporter named Salma from inside Tahrir Square said on the station's live feed, "[The supporters] are not inside the square. Every time we try to push them out, but at the cost of tens and tens and tens of people on our side," adding that the demonstrators are yelling that this is a peaceful protest, but there are no ambulances and the tanks cannot fire without hitting both sides.

The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, who is in Tahrir Square, is calling the supporters Mubarak's "thugocracy." He tweeted, "#Mubarak seems to be trying to stage a crackdown not with police or army, but with thugs. They are armed and brutal." In his part of the square, Kristof said the mobs arrived "in buses, armed with machetes, straight-razors and clubs," and the casualties are mounting.

ElBaradei has called on the army to stop the violence as Mubarak's supporters plan to infiltrate the square and take over abandoned military vehicles. The government claims that the violent supporters are not police in plainclothes, but ordinary Egyptians.

Al Jazeera English [YouTube]
[Nicholas Kristof/Twitter]

Update: At least one person was killed and another 400 injured during clashes in Tahrir Square today, with gunfire reported in downtown Cairo. It's a "miracle that only 1 person is known to have died today," tweeted the Times' Nicholas Kristof. Al Jazeera English described Molotov cocktail-like petroleum bombs being hurled as the fight raged.

Although the crowds have cleared some from the square, clashes continue near the museum area. Protesters have urged people to join them in the surrounding street to keep the battle out of the hands of Mubarak's supporters. According to Al Jazeera's correspondents, the protesters appear to outnumber their opponents near the museum and have "formed a staggered wall of angled metal shields" as a "makeshift metal barricade."

Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's newly appointed vice-president tried to placate the opposition with the prospect of dialogue, urging them to go home. But based on the belief, articulated on Al Jazeera English's live feed, that today's attacks were orchestrated by Mubarak's police and in the works ever since Mubarak announced he wouldn't run for reelection, it's unlikely to appease them. "#Mubarak thugs targeted journalists, to keep us from covering his crackdown. Hmph. Makes us all the more determined," tweeted Kristof a few minutes ago.

Even members of the administration are turning against Mubarak. On Al Jazeera, Nouraddin Adbulsamad, Egyptian minister of antiquities, called for Mubarak to step down and accused him of wanting to "burn down all of Egypt."

Philip Crowley, a spokesman for the U.S., issued a statement saying,

After days of peaceful protests in Cairo and other cities in Egypt, today we see violent attacks on peaceful demonstrators and journalists. The United States denounces these attacks and calls on all engaged in demonstrations currently taking place in Egypt to do so peacefully. These attacks are not only dangerous to Egypt; they are a direct threat to the aspirations of the Egyptian people. The use of violence to intimidate the Egyptian people must stop. We strongly call for restraint.

The Guardian posted a disturbing video of today's attacks, below, which shows at 1:20 a man on a camel beating protesters with a stick:

Egypt protests - live updates [Guardian UK]
Al Jazeera English [YouTube]
[Nicholas Kristof/Twitter]