Cairo, Feb 3 (IANS) Shots rang out Thursday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as violent clashes broke out between anti- and pro-Hosni Mubarak protesters leaving five people dead and over 600 injured.
The running clashes took place for over 12 hours with daybreak witnessing an escalation in the deteriorating situation as gunfire was being heard in this city of 18 million. Faced with the escalating protests, the octogenarian president has said he would step down only at the end of his term in September.
The pro-Mubarak supporters – some of them on horses and camels – plunged into the protesters and lashed out with sticks Wednesday. Anti-Mubarak supporters initially retreated but came back in force and surrounded some of the horsemen and pulled them down from their steed. The horsemen were left bloodied.
The anti-Mubarak protesters continued to remain defiant in the face of the attacks mounted on them as their protest entered the 10th day.
Witnesses told DPA that the two latest victims were anti-government protesters who died from gunshot. A soldier was among the three killed late Wednesday.
Salma, a young activist camping out in the square, said she would not leave until Mubarak and his entire government resigned.
“Mubarak should be tried as a war criminal for unleashing armed people on unarmed civilians,” she said.
The clashes have left at least 600 injured, Xinhua estimated.
Witnesses said the army permitted thousands of pro-Mubarak supporters to enter the square that has been the focal point of the political unrest.
Salma Eltarzi, an anti-government protester, told Al Jazeera there were many wounded people. “There are no ambulances in sight, and all we are using is Dettol,” she said.
“We are all so scared.”
Aisha Hussein, a nurse, said dozens of people were being treated at a makeshift clinic in a mosque near the square.
She said it was “absolute mayhem”, as injured protesters began to arrive in the clinic.
“People are coming in with multiple wounds. All kinds of contusions. We had one guy who needed stitches in two places on his face. Some have broken bones,” she was quoted as saying.
The opposition groups have said that the “members of security forces dressed in plain clothes and a number of thugs have stormed Tahrir Square”.
Former head of IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei accused Mubarak of resorting to scare tactics.
“I’m extremely concerned, I mean this is yet another symptom, or another indication, of a criminal regime using criminal acts,” said the Nobel laureate.
Amnesty International has criticised the Egyptian army for failing to protect anti-government protesters.
“The army has failed in its commitment to protect peaceful protesters. The fact that such violence is allowed to continue as they stand there begs the question whether they have orders not to interfere,” said Amnesty International’s deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui.
“The Egyptian authorities cannot simply sweep the board of demonstrators. The protesters’ right to peacefully demonstrate must be upheld,” AKI quoted Hadj-Sahraoui as saying.
Mubarak said late Tuesday he would not run for another term in September, but refused to step down.
US President Barack Obama told long-time US ally Mubarak Tuesday an orderly transition of power in Egypt “must begin now”.
But Egypt has rejected international calls for any transfer of power. “What foreign parties are saying about ‘a period of transition beginning immediately’ in Egypt is rejected,” foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement, asserting that such calls “sought to inflame the internal situation in Egypt”.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday called violence against peaceful protesters “unacceptable”. Ban spoke alongside Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron in London as they called for speedy political reform.
“I am deeply concerned at the continuing violence in Egypt,” said Ban. “I once again urge restraint to all the sides. An unacceptable situation is happening. Any attack against the peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable and I strongly condemn it.”