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Egypt's army separates battling demonstrators
A second day of clashes in Tahrir Square prompts decisive military action. The prime minister apologizes for the previous day's attacks, which left at least five dead.
A demonstrator protects his head during clashes with Mubarak supporters. (Mohammed Abed, AFP/Getty Images / February 3, 2011)
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CIA World Factbook: Egypt
By Ned Parker and Laura King
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
February 3, 2011, 5:22 a.m.
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Clashes flared for a second day Thursday between opponents and supporters of President Hosni Mubarak, spilling out of the central Cairo square occupied by antigovernment demonstrators and deepening the chaos gripping Egypt.

The army acted decisively for the first time to try to separate the two sides, planting tanks and soldiers in the no-man's land between what have become enemy lines. In the early afternoon, as helicopters circled overhead, the fighting was scattered and less intense than the previous day.

Confrontations were confined mainly to the periphery of Tahrir Square and the backstreets of the adjoining district, with relative calm in much the sprawling plaza itself. But a potentially larger confrontation loomed Friday, the main prayer day of the Muslim week, when protest organizers have called for a redoubling of efforts to force Mubarak to step aside.

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As international pressure mounted for a swift political transition, the newly appointed prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, called the storming of the square a day earlier by pro-Mubarak partisans a "fatal error" and pledged to investigate who had masterminded it.

Wednesday's onslaught, which left at least five people dead and hundreds injured, produced surreal scenes, most notably a horse-and-camel charge by the attackers. The two sides battled for hours with crude weapons _ sticks, stones, bottles, cudgels _ fighting that escalated after dark into gunfire and firebombs aimed at the square's defenders.

The government has denied fomenting the violence and distanced itself from the storming of the square. But organizers of what had heretofore been peaceful protesters in the square say the assailants _ who staged wave after wave of well-coordinated attacks _ were acting at the behest of the 82-year-old Egyptian leader, and that their ranks included plainclothes police and criminals sprung from jail for that purpose.

On Thursday, the principal flashpoint remained a contested stretch near the world-famous Egyptian Museum, which abuts Tahrir _Liberation _Square. Pro-Mubarak forces roamed freely in other downtown areas. One group of men was seen confiscating food and water apparently meant for the square's defenders.

Protest organizers said they had detained dozens of pro-Mubarak attackers, placing them in a makeshift holding area before periodically handing them over to the army. But rough justice was sometimes dispensed on the spot for suspected provocateurs.

"I'm one of you!" a panicked man cried out in protest as he was seized by a crowd of antigovernment demonstrators, who set upon him with fists and sticks.

Foreigners, and foreign journalists in particular, were menaced by roving groups of pro-Mubarak forces, with a number of reporters roughed up. At impromptu checkpoints, pedestrians and motorists were ordered to produce identification _ a token of the vigilante system that has taken hold across the city.

In incongruous scenes, some protesters in the square prostrated themselves in prayer while a hail of rocks fell nearby. On the square's fringes, men smashed railings to make metal clubs. Some people wore motorcycle helmets, or swaddled their heads in blankets.

"Yesterday was a slaughter," said Mahmoud Mustafa Mohammad, who helped defend the square. "I will not leave Tahrir. I will be here until Mubarak leaves, or I die."

Staff writer Edmund Sanders and Timothy Phelps contributed to this report from Cairo.

laura.king@latimes.com

ned.parker@latimes.com
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times
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Comments (18)
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condondeb at 9:40 AM February 03, 2011
I lived in Alexandria Egypt for 8 years. I am an American, and was performing project level work funded by the $1.3 Billion in US Grant money.  The improvements we made were remarkable and made life a lot better for many Egyptians.  That grant money is 75% of what we give Israel, in accordance with the Camp David Peace Accords.   It has kept the peace between Israel and Egypt for 30 years.  If anybody thinks the $1.3 billion is a waste you are wrong. Just think for a moment, imagine the government of Egypt breaking down into disorder, hostilities building between Egypt and Israel, war resulting in an instability that will require American intervention.  If that happens the US Department of Defense will be burning well over $1.75 Billion each month to maintain a US Navy Battle Group and sufficient land forces to regain control.  Use your brains, that grant money is keeping that part of the world from turning to mayhem.  Meanwhile looking at what happened in Cairo yesterday and the resulting "rush" on the peaceful protesters, let no doubt in your mind that those guys on the camels and horses, with their thousands of fellow "Mubark's Supporters" were on the payroll of the "Secret Police". Reform is in order, President O'Bama is walking a thin line, Mubarak has gotten the word to leave.  We now wait.
CliffDuyn at 8:44 AM February 03, 2011
Its the scary muslims that are hiding under your bed (untill it some one else sub socialist, comunist, terrorrist , ect . ect ad nuasium .. comes to relive them of there position), lets get real the Egyptian gov. has been the recipeant of Trillions of american tax dollars for over 30 years time to cut them off of wealfare.
Jim199104 at 8:08 AM February 03, 2011
If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Egypt, it'll be just as bad as the Taliban was in Afghanistan.
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