Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Mubarak backers attack anti-government protesters

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, Associated Press Feb. 2, 2011

CAIRO – Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak charged into Cairo's central
square on horseback and camels brandishing whips while others rained
firebombs from rooftops in what appeared to be an orchestrated assault
against anti-government protesters trying to topple Egypt's leader of 30
years. Three people died and 600 were injured in the uncontrolled

The protesters accused Mubarak's regime of unleashing a force of paid
thugs and plainclothes police to crush their unprecedented, 9-day-old
movement demanding his ouster, a day after the 82-year-old president
refused to step down. They showed off police ID badges they said were
wrested from their attackers. Some government workers said their employers
ordered them into the streets.

Mustafa el-Fiqqi, a top official from the ruling National Democratic
Party, told The Associated Press that businessmen connected to the ruling
party were responsible for what happened.

The notion that the state may have coordinated violence against
protesters, who had kept a peaceful vigil in Tahrir Square for five days,
prompted one of the sharpest rebukes yet from the Obama administration.

"If any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop
immediately," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

The clashes marked a dangerous new phase in Egypt's upheaval: the first
significant violence between government supporters and opponents. The
crisis took a sharp turn for the worse almost immediately after Mubarak
rejected the calls for him to give up power or leave the country,
stubbornly proclaiming he would die on Egyptian soil.

His words were a sharp blow to the protesters. They were also a signal to
a country that had been holding its breath to see if Mubarak would fall
that authorities want to turn back the clock to the tight state control
enforced before last Tuesday.

In the wake of Mubarak's speech, his supporters turned up on the streets
Wednesday in significant numbers for the first time. Some were hostile to
journalists and foreigners. Two Associated Press correspondents and
several other journalists were roughed up in Cairo. State TV reported
Tuesday night that foreigners were caught distributing anti-Mubarak
leaflets, apparently trying to depict the movement as foreign-fueled.

The scenes of mayhem were certain to add to the fear that is already
running high in this capital of 18 million people after a weekend of
rampant looting and lawlessness and the escape of thousands of prisoners
from jails in the chaos.

A light army presence that has surrounded Tahrir Square for days fired
shots in the air throughout the clashes but did appear to otherwise
intervene and no uniformed police were seen. Most of the troops took
shelter behind or inside the armored vehicles and tanks stationed at the
entrances to the square.

"Why don't you protect us?" some shouted at soldiers, who replied they did
not have orders to do so and told people to go home.

"The army is neglectful. They let them in," said Emad Nafa, a 52-year-old
among the protesters, who for days had showered the military with
affection for its neutral stance.

Some of the worst street battles raged near the famed Egyptian Museum at
the edge of the square. Pro-government rioters blanketed the rooftops of
nearby buildings and hurled bricks and firebombs onto the crowd below — in
the process setting a tree ablaze inside the museum grounds. Plainclothes
police at the building entrances prevented anti-Mubarak protesters from
storming up to stop them.

The two sides pummeled each other with chunks of concrete and bottles at
each of the six entrances to the sprawling plaza, where the 10,000
anti-Mubarak protesters tried to fend off the more than 3,000 attackers
who besieged them. Some on the pro-government side waved machetes, while
the square's defenders filled the air with a ringing battlefield din by
banging metal fences with sticks.

In one almost medieval scene, a small contingent of pro-Mubarak forces on
horseback and camels rushed into the crowds, trampling several people and
swinging whips and sticks. Protesters dragged some from their mounts,
throwing them to the ground and beating their faces bloody. The horses and
camels appeared to be ones used by the many touts around Cairo who sell
rides for tourists.

Dozens of men and women pried up the pieces of the pavement with bars and
ferried the piles of ammunition in canvas sheets to their allies at the
front. Others directed fighters to streets needing reinforcements.
Entrances to a subway station under the square were turned into impromptu
prisons, with seized attackers tied up and held at the bottom of the

Some protesters wept and prayed in the square where only a day before they
had held a joyous, peaceful rally of a quarter-million, the largest
demonstration so far.

After years of tight state control, protesters emboldened by the uprising
in Tunisia took to the streets on Jan. 25 and mounted a once-unimaginable
series of demonstrations across this nation of 80 million. For the past
few days, protesters who camped out in Tahrir Square, reveled in a sense
of freedom that they almost never enjoy — publicly expressing their hatred
for the Mubarak regime.

"After our revolution, they want to send people here to ruin it for us,"
said Ahmed Abdullah, a 47-year-old lawyer in the square.

Another man shrieked through a loudspeaker: "Hosni has opened the door for
these thugs to attack us."

The pressure for demonstrators to clear the square mounted throughout the
day, beginning early when a military spokesman appeared on state TV and
asked them to disperse so life in Egypt could get back to normal.

It was a change in attitude by the army, which for the past few days had
allowed protests to swell with no interference and even made a statement
saying they had a legitimate right to demonstrate peacefully.

Then the regime began to rally its supporters in significant numbers for
the first time, demanding an end to the unprecedented protest movement.
Some 20,000 held an angry but mostly peaceful rally across the Nile River
from Tahrir, after notices on state TV calling for attendance.

They said Mubarak's concessions were enough. He has promised not to run
for re-election in September, named a new government and appointed a vice
president for the first time, widely considered his designated successor.

They waved Egyptian flags, their faces painted with the
black-white-and-red national colors, and carried a large printed banner
with Mubarak's face as police officers surrounded the area and directed
traffic. They cheered as a military helicopter swooped overhead.

They were bitter at the jeers hurled at Mubarak.

"I feel humiliated," said Mohammed Hussein, a 31-year-old factory worker.
"He is the symbol of our country. When he is insulted, I am insulted."

Sayyed Ramadan, a clothing vendor said: "Eight days with no security,
safety, food or drink. I earn my living day by day. The president didn't
do anything. It is shame that we call him a dog."

Emad Fathi, 35, works as a delivery boy but since the demonstrations, he
has not gone to work.

"I came here to tell these people to leave," he said. "The mosques were
calling on people to go and support Mubarak," he said.

Having the rival sides on the streets is particularly worrying because
there do not appear to be anywhere near enough police or military to
control resurgent violence.

And the anti-Mubarak movement has vowed to intensify protests to force him
out by Friday.

In the evening, state TV said Vice President Omar Suleiman called "on the
youth to heed the armed forces' call and return home to restore order."

From the other side, senior anti-Mubarak figure Mohamed ElBaradei demanded
the military "intervene immediately and decisively to stop this massacre."

Protesters have maintained a round-the-clock, peaceful vigil in Tahrir
since Friday night, when the military was first deployed and police
largely vanished from the streets. After celebrating their biggest success
yet in drawing a quarter-million to the square on Tuesday, a gloom moved
through the crowds and they thinned out overnight. By morning, a few
thousand protesters remained in the square.

Mubarak supporters began to gather at the edges of the plaza a little
after noon, and protesters formed a human chain to keep them out. In the
early afternoon, around 3,000 pro-government demonstrators broke through
and surged among the protesters, according to an Associated Press reporter
at the scene.

They tore down banners denouncing the president, fistfights broke out, and
protesters grabbed Mubarak posters from the hands of the supporters and
ripped them to pieces.

From there, it escalated into street battles as hundreds poured in to join
each side.

The battle lines at each of the six entrances surged back and forth
repeatedly for hours. Each side's fighters stretched across the width of
the four-lane divided boulevard, hiding behind abandoned trucks and
holding sheets of corrugated metal as shields from the hail of stones.

At the heart of the square, young men with microphones sought to keep up
morale. Stand fast, reinforcements are on the way," said one. "Youth of
Egypt, be brave." Groups of men in the beards of conservative Muslims
lined up to recite prayers before taking their turn in the line of fire.

The health minister announced one dead — a person in civilian clothes who
may have been a policeman fell off a nearby bridge — and nearly 600
injured. Bloodied young men staggered or were carried into makeshift
clinics set up in mosques and alleyways by the anti-government side.

Women and men stood back with water, medical cotton and bandages ready as
each wave returned, some with bloodied faces or shirts. Scores of wounded
were carried to a makeshift clinic at a mosque near the square and on
other side streets, staffed by doctors in white coats. One man with blood
coming out of his eye stumbled into a side-street clinic.

As night fell, some protesters went to get food, a sign they plan to dig
in for a long siege. Hundreds more people from the impoverished district
of Shubra showed up later as reinforcements.

The day's events could herald a dangerous new chapter after a series of
dramatic and unpredictable twists in Egypt's upheaval.

Initially, police cracked down hard with deadly assaults on the
demonstrators. Then police withdrew completely from the streets for the
day, opening a wave of looting, armed robberies and arson — largely
separate from the protests themselves — that stunned Egyptians.

But since Sunday, the army moved in to take control and the situation
became more peaceful. The military announced it would not stop protests.
As a result, the demonstrations swelled dramatically, protesters gained
momentum and enthusiasm and many believed Mubarak's immediate fall was at

The United States put intense pressure on Mubarak to bring his rule to an
end while ensuring a stable handover.

Wednesday's events suggest the regime aims to put an end of the unrest to
let Mubarak shape the transition as he choses over the next months.
Mubarak has offered negotiations with protest leaders over democratic
reforms, but they have refused any talks until he goes.

As if to show the public the crisis was ending, the government began to
reinstate Internet service after days of an unprecedented cutoff. State TV
announced the easing of a nighttime curfew, which now runs from 5 p.m. to
7 a.m. instead of 3 p.m. to 8 a.m.


AP correspondents Sarah El Deeb, Hamza Hendawi, Diaa Hadid, Lee Keath,
Michael Weissenstein and Maggie Michael contributed to this report.

Journalists attacked, detained in Egypt

By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press Feb. 2, 2011

CAIRO – Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak unleashed their fury on the
media Wednesday, beating and threatening journalists who were covering
fierce battles between pro- and anti-government crowds in central Cairo.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists accused the Egyptian
government of orchestrating attacks on reporters in an attempt to deprive
the world of independent information about the unrest. Paris-based
Reporters Without Borders said "infiltrated policemen" had joined the

The Egyptian government denied the allegations.

CNN's Anderson Cooper was among those roughed up during a chaotic day in
which Mubarak backers turned out in force for the first time in nine days
of protests against his autocratic rule. Cooper said he, a producer and
camera operator were set upon by people who began punching them and trying
to break their camera.

"This is incredibly fast-moving," he said. "I've been in mobs before and
I've been in riots, but I've never had it turn so quickly."

A journalist for Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television suffered a concussion,
said media watchdog International Press Institute, citing Randa Abul-Azm,
the station's bureau chief in Cairo.

The attacks appeared to reflect a pro-government view that many media
outlets are sympathetic to protesters who want Mubarak to quit now rather
than complete his term. On Tuesday night, Mubarak pledged not to run in
elections later this year, and the army urged people to cease

In Wednesday's fighting, security forces did not intervene as thousands of
people hurled stones and firebombs at each other for hours in and around
the capital's Tahrir Square.

ABC's Christiane Amanpour said she could tell how the mood had changed
from previous days after arriving in the square.

"You could smell it there," she said. "I just wondered what this was going
to bode for the day."

She quickly found out: Thugs surrounded Amanpour and her crew shouting "We
hate Americans" and "Go to hell," she said.

Amanpour decided to leave and her team got into a car. They were
surrounded by a crowd that began rocking and pounding on the car, she
said. Then someone threw a rock that shattered the windshield. The ABC
team escaped unhurt.

The Egyptian government has used "blanket censorship, intimidation, and
today a series of deliberate attacks on journalists carried out by
pro-government mobs," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North
Africa program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists.

CPJ cited a report by independent daily Al-Shorouk in Cairo that men
described as "plainclothes police" attacked their headquarters Wednesday,
injuring two reporters and smashing a camera.

There were reported assaults on journalists for the BBC, Danish TV2 News
and Swiss television. Two Associated Press correspondents were also
roughed up.

"We strongly condemn these attacks and urge all parties to refrain from
violence against journalists, local or foreign, who are simply trying to
cover these demonstrations and clashes for the benefit of the public,"
Anthony Mills, press freedom manager for Vienna-based IPI, said in a

"We are particularly concerned at suggestions that the attacks may have
been linked to the security services," he said.

Government spokesman Magdy Rady said the assertion of state involvement in
street clashes and attacks on reporters was a "fiction," and that the
government welcomed objective coverage.

"It would help our purpose to have it as transparent as possible. We need
your help," Rady said in an interview with The Associated Press. However,
he said some media were not impartial and were "taking sides against

Also Wednesday, Israeli media said four Israeli journalists in Egypt were
arrested for violating the nightly curfew and working on tourist visas.
Three were later released.

Israel Radio said one of the journalists worked for an Arabic-language
portal based in the Israeli Arab town of Nazareth. Israel's Channel 2 TV
denied reports that three of its reporters were among those detained.

Israel's Foreign Ministry released a statement calling on Israeli
reporters in Egypt to "remain alert, act responsibly and follow the

Egyptian state television reported Tuesday night that foreigners were
caught distributing anti-Mubarak leaflets, in what appeared to be an
effort to depict the protest movement as foreign-fueled. The government
restored Internet service on Wednesday after having shut it down since
last week, apparently to thwart protesters from organizing.

The website of Belgium's Le Soir newspaper said Belgian reporter Serge
Dumont, whose real name is Maurice Sarfatti, was beaten Wednesday while
covering a pro-Mubarak demonstration and taken away by unidentified people
dressed as civilians.

The paper said Sarfatti had been able to call the paper to tell them he
had been taken to a military post.

"They are saying I'm going to be taken to see security services. They
accuse me of being a spy," the paper's website quoted him as saying.

Le Soir said Sarfatti uses the byline Serge Dumont and that he also works
for Switzerland's Le Temps and France's La Voix du Nord newspapers.

A reporter for Turkey's Fox TV, his Egyptian cameraman and their driver
were abducted by men with knives while filming protests Wednesday, but
Egyptian police later rescued them, said Anatolia, a Turkish news agency.

There was no information on why the crew was held or circumstances
surrounding their release.

A correspondent and a cameraman working for Russia's Zvezda television
channel were detained by men in plainclothes and held overnight Tuesday,
Anastasiya Popova of Vesti state television and radio said on air from

"All of their equipment, cameras and all cassettes, were taken from them,
they were taken to a house and blindfolded," Popova said. They were
questioned, she said, "but today they took them to the outskirts of town
and let them go without any explanation."


Associated Press writers David Bauder in New York, Angela Doland in Paris,
Lynn Berry in Moscow, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Mark Lavie in
Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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