Violence escalated in Cairo's Tahrir Square Wednesday as supporters of embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak clashed with protesters who have been calling for the president to step down.
Reporters at the scene say Egyptian troops have fired warning shots in a bid to end the clashes that have left several people trampled and bleeding.
Opponents and supporters of Mr. Mubarak fought with stones, fists and clubs while people on camels and horses charged through the crowds.
Army vehicles were seen trying to separate the clashing demonstrators.
Anti-government protesters are blaming undercover police for the clashes. Pro-democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei told the BBC Wednesday that the government is using "scare tactics" and he feared the clashes would turn into a "bloodbath."
However, state television is reporting that the Interior Ministry denies plainclothes police officers were involved in the violence.
Opposition groups, including the country's powerful but officially banned Muslim Brotherhood, have refused to negotiate with the government before Mr. Mubarak leaves office.
They have called for widespread demonstrations on Friday to press for Mr. Mubarak's departure.
Key Players in Egypt's Crisis
- President Hosni Mubarak: The 82-year-old has ruled Egypt for 30 years as leader of the National Democratic Party. Egypt's longest-serving president came to power after the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat.
- Mohamed ElBaradei: The Nobel Peace laureate and former Egyptian diplomat has gained international attention as a vocal critic of Mr. Mubarak and his government. Until recently he headed the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, and he has lived outside Egypt for years. ElBaradei founded the nonpartisan movement National Association for Change, and has offered to lead a transitional administration in Egypt if Mr. Mubarak steps down.
- Vice President Omar Suleiman: The new Egyptian vice president has served as head of intelligence and is a close ally of President Mubarak. He earned international respect for his role as a mediator in Middle East affairs and for curbing Islamic extremism.
- Ayman Nour: The political dissident founded the Al Ghad or "tomorrow" party. Nour ran against Mr. Mubarak in the 2005 election and was later jailed on corruption charges. The government released him in 2009 under pressure from the United States and other members of the international community.
- Muslim Brotherhood: The Islamic fundamentalist organization is outlawed in Egypt, but remains the largest opposition group. Its members previously held 20 percent of the seats in parliament, but lost them after a disputed election in late 2010. The group leads a peaceful political and social movement aimed at forming an Islamic state
Mr. Mubarak announced late Tuesday he will not seek reelection in September, but he vowed to serve out his term until then.
He spoke at the end of a day when an estimated 250,000 people flooded Tahrir Square to demand his resignation. Anti-Mubarak protesters also rallied in other major Egyptian cities.
ElBaradei told the U.S. television network CNN that Mr. Mubarak's decision to remain in power will extend Egypt's "agony" until presidential elections planned for September. He called the move an "act of deception" from someone who "does not want to let go."
Egypt's military urged demonstrators Wednesday to return to their normal lives, saying their message has been heard and their demands have become known.
Internet service began returning to the country Wednesday after days of an unprecedented cutoff.
The 82-year-old Mr. Mubarak has been president of Egypt for nearly 30 years.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
|NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter|
and discuss them on our Facebook page.