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Egypt Army Moves In As Protesters Clash With Mubarak Supporters

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CAIRO - Egyptian army tanks and soldiers cleared away pro-government rioters and deployed between them and protesters seeking the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, as the prime minister made an unprecedented apology Thursday for the assault by regime backers that turned central Cairo into a battle zone.


Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told state TV that the attack Wednesday on the anti-government protesters was a "blatant mistake" and promised to investigate who was behind it.

But about the same time Shafiq was issuing an apology, another government official was denying a direct link to the violence by Mubarak supporters. As relayed by the BBC:

A cabinet spokesman Magdy Rady has insisted to Reuters that the government had no role in mobilising pro-Mubarak groups. "To accuse the government of mobilising this is a real fiction. That would defeat our object of restoring the calm."

Also in Egypt, foreign journalists were beaten with sticks and fists by pro-government mobs on the streets Cairo on Thursday and dozens were reported detained by security forces in what the U.S. called a concerted attempt to intimidate the press.

Two New York Times reporters were detained in Cairo and later released. The Washington Post's Cairo bureau chief and a photographer were reportedly arrested.

The protesters accuse the regime of organizing the assault, using paid thugs and policemen in civilian clothes, in an attempt to crush their movement. Government supporters charged central Tahrir Square Wednesday afternoon, sparking 15 hours of uncontrolled chaos, with the two sides battled with rocks, sticks, bottles and firebombs as soliders largely stood by without intervening.

The military began to move with muscle for the first time to stop the fighting early Thursday after a barrage of automatic gunfire hit the anti-government camp before dawn, killing at least three protesters in a serious escalation.

Four tanks cleared a highway overpass from which Mubarak supporters had hurled rocks and firebombs onto the protesters. Soldiers on the streets carrying rifles lined up between the two sides around 11 a.m. Several hundred other soldiers were moving toward the front line.
Thursday morning, more protesters streamed into the square, joining the thousands of defenders who spent the chilly night there, hunkered down against the thousands of government supporters in the surrounding streets.

A sense of victory ran through the protesters, even as they organized their ranks in the streets in case of a new assault. "Thank God, we managed to protect the whole area," said Abdul-Rahman, a taxi driver who spent the night in the square. "We prevented the pro-Mubarak people from storming the streets leading to the square." He refused to give his full name.

The apology by Shafiq, who was appointed by Mubarak over the weekend, was highly unusual from a leadership that rarely makes public admissions of a mistake. His promise to investigate who organized the attack came only hours after the Interior Ministry issued a denial that any of its police were involved.

"I offer my apology for everything that happened yesterday because it's neither logical nor rational," Shafiq said. "What happened was wrong, a million percent wrong, whether it was deliberate or not deliberate ... Everything that happened yesterday will be investigated so everyone knows who was behind it."

The anti-Mubarak movement, which has carried out an unprecedented 10 days of protests bringing as many as quarter-million people into Tahrir, has vowed to intensify protests to force him out by Friday. In a speech Tuesday night, Mubarak refused to step down immediately, saying he would serve out the remaining seven months of his term -- a halfway concession rejected by the protesters.

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Ahram Online reports:

A spiritual leader of Somalia's Islamist Shebab rebels called for popular Egypt- and Tunisia-style revolts to topple the government.

Sheikh Jama Abdusalam said such uprisings would rid the war-wracked country of a government that he accused of serving Western interests.

"I am urging the people to carry out Egyptian- and Tunisian-style uprisings in Somalia," Abdusalam told Alfurqaan Radio, a Shebab mouthpiece.

Read more here.

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@ AlArabiya_Eng : Clinton to Alarabiya: I say to egyptians: don't let anyone hijack the process #alarabiya #Iran #Egypt #clinton

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Egypt's military rulers called for an end to strikes and protests Monday as thousands of state employees, from ambulance drivers to police and transport workers, demonstrated to demand better pay in a growing wave of labor unrest unleashed by the democracy uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak's regime.

The statement by the ruling military council that took power from Mubarak appeared to be a final warning to protest organizers in labor and professional unions before the army intervenes and imposes an outright ban on gatherings, strikes and sit-ins.

Soldiers cleared out almost all the remaining demonstrators from Cairo's Tahrir Square, the giant traffic circle that was turned into a protest camp headquarters for the 18-day revolt. During more than two weeks of round-the-clock demonstrations at the square, protesters set up tents, brought in blankets, operated medical clinics and festooned the entire plaza with giant banners demanding removal of the regime.

Read more here.

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Al Jazerra's Evan Hill filed a new set of photos from Cairo, documenting the return to some semblance of normality, following the political unrest of recent weeks.

More from Al Jazerra here.

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The Guardian reports:

There are rumours – and let us stress, just rumours at this point – of more deaths in Bahrain following today's protests.

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@ felix85 : France says Egypt asks it to freeze possible assets of ex-officials, adding to UK and Germany already today

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Wael Ghonim, a regional marketing manager for Google in the Middle East tells 60 Minutes about the support that the company provided when he was detained for his role in the protests.

There is more video from Ghonim's interview with 60 Minutes here.

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Hundreds of Egyptian police have been protesting outside the country's Interior Ministry. They are demanding better wages and seeking to disassociate themselves from the deaths of protesters in the run up to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak from the Presidency.

Watch Al Jazerra's coverage of the protests:

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Ahram Online reports:

A crowd of about 3,000 protesters, mainly lawyers and students, tried to march from Sanaa University to Al-Tahrir square in the city centre, where [Yemen President] Saleh's supporters have been camped since last week, but were prevented by security forces who erected barbed wire, witnesses reported.

In a move to manage the situation President Saleh halted constitutional procedures which may have allowed him to assume the presidency for life, and possibly pave the way for his son, the chief of the Republican Guard, to succeed him.

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The Guardian reports:

A major development in Bahrain where there are reports that one person has been killed by security forces during a protest:

According to sources in the hospital, and confirmed by Nabeel Rajab from a Bahraini human rights organisation, Ali Abdulhadi al-Mushaima, 27, was shot in the back with live ammunition. Protesters are incensed.

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@ thelede : Live Update: Dozens of Iran Protest Clips on YouTube #Egypt #Bahrain #Iran

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The New York Times reports:

Two generals sat down Sunday night to talk about their country’s future with seven of the revolution’s young organizers — including the Google marketing executive Wael Ghonim — and the young activists posted their notes on the meeting directly to the Internet for the Egyptian public to see.

“We all sensed a sincere desire to preserve the gains of the revolution and unprecedented respect for the right of young people to express their views,” two of the young organizers, Mr. Ghonim and Amr Salama, wrote in their Facebook posting, with the disclaimer that they were speaking only for themselves. They noted that the generals spoke without any of the usual “parental tone (you do not know what is good for you, son),” and called the encounter “the first time an Egyptian official sat down to listen more than speak.”

Read more here.

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@ AJEnglish : Clashes reported in Iran protests: Pro-reformist marches under way in Tehran despite a heavy security presence a...

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Ahram Online reports:

According to activist Ahmed Nassar, Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League, stated that he will be devoting his time in the coming months to his presidential campaign as soon as he hands over his Arab League post in March.

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@ richardengelnbc : #egypt.. some APCs moved out of downtown.. feeling cairo is slowly being 'demilitarized,' although military in control

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@ BBCWorld : US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hails 'courage' and 'aspirations' of anti-government protesters in #Iran, from AFP

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Videos have been surfacing today showing protesters burning images of government leaders in Iran. This video shows a man, alleged to be a plain-clothes policeman, attempting to stop protesters from burning such an image, resulting in a violent skirmish.

Warning - contains violent images.

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BBC News reports:

Unrest in Yemen turned ugly as protesters clashed with police and government loyalists in Sanaa on the fourth consecutive day of rallies.

Thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh came up against a smaller crowd backing the veteran leader.

The protesters could be heard chanting "After Mubarak, Ali", in reference to the recent dramatic events in Egypt.

Police fired tear gas and stones were thrown, with reports of injuries.

Read more here.

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Reuters reports:

Dozens of Iranian opposition supporters were arrested on Monday while taking part in a banned rally in Tehran to support popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, an Iranian opposition website said.

"Witnesses say in some parts of Tehran security forces arrested dozens of protesters," opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi's Kaleme website reported.

Read more here.

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