Five Killed as Egypt Protesters Come Under Fire
Thursday, 03 February 2011

Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak opened fire on protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Thursday, killing at least five, in a fresh spike in violence over an unprecedented challenge to his 30-year-old rule.

In the overnight fighting, machine-gun fire echoed for more than an hour across the central square where protesters -- unsatisfied by Mubarak's pledge to step down in September -- have vowed to stay until the 82-year-old president quits.

"One way or another we will bring Mubarak down," some chanted in the early morning. "We will not give up, we will not sell out," others shouted.

Egyptian Health Minister Ahmed Samih Farid told state television five had died and 836 were wounded in fighting which first erupted on Wednesday. He said most of the casualties were due to stone throwing and attacks with metal rods and sticks.

The firing began around 4 am (0200 GMT) while hundreds of anti-government protesters camped out in the square.

With many protesters blaming the government for instigating the crackdown on the previously largely peaceful demonstrations, the United States has renewed its appeal to Mubarak to take steps toward democratic elections at once.

A senior US official also said on Wednesday it was clear that "somebody loyal to Mubarak has unleashed these guys to try to intimidate the protesters."

Washington supplies the Egyptian army -- which has ruled Egypt since toppling the monarchy in 1952 -- annually with about $1.3 billion in aid.

But its options for leaning harder on Egypt to end the violence and begin a transfer of power are limited.

Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, justified the emergency rule which kept Mubarak in power as needed to curb Islamist militants and Washington is looking for a way forward which does not encourage even greater instability.

After Mubarak announced on Tuesday that he would stay in office until September and then step down, President Barack Obama telephoned him and said that change "must begin now." He stopped short of calling him to quit immediately.


On Wednesday chances of a peaceful resolution of the crisis receded when supporters of Mubarak, throwing petrol bombs, wielding sticks and charging on camels and horses, attacked protesters in Tahrir Square.

Officials said three people were killed in Wednesday's violence and a doctor said over 1,500 were injured.

Reacting to the tumult in Egypt, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday that, "If any of the violence is instigated by the government it should stop immediately."


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