Egyptian Army Enters Tahrir Square, Disperses Protesters

11/20/2011 10:50 am ET | Updated Nov 20, 2011

CAIRO -- The Egyptian Army, long absent from the protests and clashes that have riled Tahrir Square for more than 30 hours, arrived suddenly at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, sweeping all of the protesters from the area.

The many thousands of protesters who had gathered in the square dispersed along the half-dozen side roads, with many of them gathering underneath the October 6th Bridge, next to the Egyptian Museum. Much of the worst fighting took place in that area during the original Tahrir protests in January and February that forced Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak from office.

The army has ruled Egypt since then, under a military council that many consider to have engaged in most of the same abuses as the prior regime. Elections this month will choose the first popular parliament in the country's history, but the vote for a president has been delayed numerous times by the military regime.

Twitter users along the main roads of the skirmish with the Army described the use of birdshot fired from shotguns to help ultimately drive the civilian protesters out of Tahrir.

Fires could be seen burning in the middle of the square, although it was not immediately clear who had set them, and the central roundabout -- until just a few minutes earlier flush with people -- was completely barren.

White smoke could be seen rising from the various access roads as security forces chased protestors to the outskirts of the square.

Just twenty minutes earlier, the massive area around Tahrir roundabout had been about half full, with combatants aggressively pushing west along Mohamed Mahmoud Street, in the direction of the Ministry of the Interior.

For more than a full day, protesters have battled the Interior security forces, who were armed with rubber bullets and tear gas, and by and large held their ground. Over a long night Saturday the protesters rebuffed numerous assaults by interior ministry forces, and seemed to have full control of the square as the sun set on Sunday.

But with work getting out at the end of the first day of the Arab week, hundreds if not thousands more people seemed to be streaming into the square, and the Army made the decision to move.

Most of the protesters in Tahrir for the past 24 hours have been drawn from the ranks of liberals and secularists who took and held the square back in February, when they successfully brought down Mubarak.

Members of Egypt's conservative Islamist communities, including the now politically active Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, had largely stayed away from the protests, with one party leader telling The Huffington Post that the protests were merely an attempt by liberals to delay the elections.

Islamist groups, who are far better organized than Egypt's liberals, are expected to fare particularly well in the elections, which are slated to begin a week from tomorrow.

Meanwhile, even as the security forces chased protestors from the square, there were various reports that they were reassembling along side streets and preparing to reenter the square.

This is a developing story. Follow below for the latest updates:

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