Five dead, 800 hurt in Cairo clashes, PM says sorry (Third Lead)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

CAIRO - Gunfire reverberated across the Egyptian capital as pitched battles between government supporters and protesters demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak continued through the night and well into Thursday, killing at least five people and wounding more than 800. While the president showed no signs of giving in, his Prime Minister Ahmad Shafik offered his apologies.

Chaos reigned at Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the uprising to oust Mubarak’s 30-year rule, as bursts of gunfire and stray bullets felled two people, taking the toll of the Wednesday-Thursday clashes to five and fuelling anger among the demonstrators in this city of 18 million.

Mubarak, who became president in 1981, has refused to quit, saying he would step down only at the end of his term in September.

However, Prime Minister Ahmad Shafik offered “apologies” over the clashes and promised that offenders would be held accountable, Xinhua reported citing state TV.

An Egyptian minister was reported as saying that the number of injured had reached 829, including 200 people who were injured Thursday morning.

Despite the prime minister’s apology, the anger spiralled with protesters refusing to be cowed down and determined to retaliate.

Witnesses said the two latest victims were anti-Mubarak protesters who died from gunshot wounds. Amongst them was Taha Mohamed Kamel, 54.

DPA quoted his distraught daughter, Abir, as blaming pro-Mubarak protesters for her father’s death and calling them “traitors”.

As the wounded cried out in pain, they were rushed to a makeshift clinic in a mosque near Tahrir square.

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 the makeshift 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.

Television showed footage of tanks trundling towards Tahrir Square, but the military has not yet directly intervened between the sides.

At one point, the violence spilled out from the square to an area near the Egyptian Museum that has a huge collection of valuable artefacts.

The clashes took place after 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 steeds. The horsemen were left bloodied.

Belal Mohamed Abdullah, who said he had escaped from the police station in Basateen as it was being set on fire during the unrest, claimed that he was later promised 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($850) if anti-Mubarak protesters were pushed out of Tahrir Square. He was also told by security that any charges pending against him would be dropped, he said.

“I was asked to go and remove the people sitting in Tahrir Square,” he told DPA. He spoke via the mobile phone of a protester who had subsequently detained him.

The anti-Mubarak protesters continued to remain defiant in the face of the attacks mounted on them as their protest entered the 10th day.

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.

“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,” AKI quoted Amnesty International’s deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, as saying.

But Egypt has rejected international calls, including from US President Barack Obama, for the 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”.

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