Cairo – Tensions between supporters of embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and opposition protesters boiled over today as violent clashes broke out on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, injuring at least 26.
The confrontations erupted after thousands of Mubarak supporters marched into Tahrir, which has become the focal point for nine days of anti-government protests.
Protesters on both sides began throwing stones at each other, with some of the fiercest clashes breaking out in front of the world famous Egyptian Museum.
At least 10 people were injured in the initial confrontation, and bloody head wounds were visible on many, an AFP correspondent said.
Pro-Mubarak supporters riding horses and camels then charged anti-government protesters, who surrounded them.
At least six were dragged from their animals and beaten, a second AFP correspondent said.
Elsewhere, an angry crowd of anti-Mubarak protesters beat at least 10 pro-regime demonstrators with sticks.
Soldiers surrounding the square took cover from the projectiles, and the windows of at least one army truck were broken.
Some troops stood on tanks and appealed for calm but did not otherwise intervene.
“The pro-Mubarak NDP (National Democratic Party) and the secret police dressed in plain clothes, they invaded the place to get rid of the revolt,” said protester Mohammed Zomor (63).
Fighting took place around army tanks deployed in the square, with stones bouncing off the armoured vehicles.
Some protesters were engaged in fist fights, and others were using clubs.
The opposition said plain clothes policemen had stormed the square.
“Members of security forces dressed in plain clothes and a number of thugs have stormed Tahrir Square,” said three opposition groups.
Several thousand pro-Mubarak demonstrators also rallied in the up-market Mohandeseen district, although no violence was reported there.
The clashes came after pro-regime demonstrators staged protests at points across Cairo, pledging their allegiance to the beleaguered Mubarak, who has said he will not stand for re-election in September.
But the long-time ruler has not indicated any plans to leave office, a key demand of the anti-government protesters who have shaken Egypt with nine days of unprecedented demonstrations.
This morning, a crowd of pro-Mubarak demonstrators gathered by the headquarters of Egypt’s state television, carrying banners reading “Yes to Mubarak, to protect stability,” “Yes to the president of peace and stability,” and “Those who love Egypt would not drown it.”
A witness said organisers were paying people 100 Egyptian pounds (R122) to take part in the pro-Mubarak rally, but this could not be confirmed.
“Decent people left the square after the speech of President Mubarak,” said Gamal Ibrahim, a journalist in the crowd.
“Only the traitors are still there,” he added.
Pro-regime demonstrators also chanted slogans against the Doha-based Al Jazeera satellite news channel, whose signal has been interrupted by Egypt’s Nilesat for providing instant coverage of the protests, accusing it of siding with the opposition.
“Where is Al Jazeera? Here is the Egyptian people,” they chanted.