Five dead, 800 injured as gunfire echoes in Cairo (Second Lead)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

CAIRO - Gunfire rang out across ground zero Tahrir Square Thursday as clashes between government supporters and protesters demanding the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak escalated, leaving five dead and 800 injured with no ambulances in sight and a makeshift clinic trying desperately to tend to the wounded.

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.

Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for the past nearly 30 years, has said he would step down only at the end of his term in September. He has refused to quit immediately - the principal demand of the protesters who have significantly escalated their mass movement by holding the `march of a million’ Tuesday.

State-run Nile TV quoted Egypt’s minister of health Ahmed Samih Farid as saying that the number of injured here has reached 829, which includes 200 people who were injured Thursday morning, reported CNN which added that they could not independently verify the figures.

As the wounded stumbled on the streets, 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.

Witnesses told DPA that the some of the victims were anti-government protesters who died from gunshot injuries.

“We can’t keep having every 15 minutes our people dropping from gunshots while the army just watches,” said Mona Seif as she continued to stand her ground in Tahrir Square.

Salma, a young activist, 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 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 steed. 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.

Witnesses said that the two latest victims were anti-government protesters who died from gunshot. A soldier was among the three killed late Wednesday.

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,” 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”.

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