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Egyptian Police Start Wave of Arrests

  • Luis Ramirez

An opposition supporter throws a rock in front of a tank during rioting with pro-Mubarak demonstrators near Tahrir Square in Cairo, February 3, 2011

An opposition supporter throws a rock in front of a tank during rioting with pro-Mubarak demonstrators near Tahrir Square in Cairo, February 3, 2011

Egyptian security forces are arresting demonstrators as clashes continue between supporters of President Hosni Mubarak and his opponents who want him to go now. The latest violence has killed at least five people and injured hundreds.

The arrests follow a night of intense violence in the Egyptian capital in which pro and anti-Mubarak protesters fought each other with rocks, sticks, and firebombs. There were bursts of sustained gunfire. The violence marked a dramatic change in what had been, earlier in the week, a peaceful demonstration.

Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik went on state television to apologize for the violence. He denied government involvement in the clashes.

Protesters attacked

The anti-government demonstrators are not convinced. They accuse the government of encouraging, or at least allowing the pro-Mubarak demonstrators to go in and attack the anti-government demonstrators in central Cairo's Tahrir Square.

By midmorning Thursday, Egypt's army appeared to be stopping all demonstrators from entering the square. Among those leaving the area was a 20-year-old software engineer.

"There was big violence," he said. "All that area I was in was full of Mubarak's guy's, Mubarak's people."

Journalists targeted

Mubarak supporters targeted foreign journalists, mobbing and cursing reporters. They accuse the foreign media of instigating the protests.

With police off the streets at least for a few days earlier in the week, demonstrators had unprecedented freedom to express their anger toward Mr. Mubarak. By Thursday, with plainclothes agents on the streets and threatening those who talked to reporters, signs of the old police had returned.

Too far

The demonstrator who spoke to VOA did so away from the street. He says the demonstrations have gone too far to go back, and he intends to return to the square and continue protesting.

"We are Egyptian. We have a brave heart," he said. "We have to get our freedom. This is 30 years without freedom in Egypt."

Mr. Mubarak's government has called for a dialogue with the opposition but says no negotiations can begin until the protests end. The opposition wants the Egyptian president out of office, out of the country, or put on trial.

Mr. Mubarak has sought to calm the demonstrators by announcing he will not seek re-election. Demonstrators are planning another major protest in Cairo on Friday, the day they say they want him to depart.

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