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Egyptian Army Enters Tahrir Square, Disperses Protesters

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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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Egyptian-American reporter Mona Eltahawy was reportedly beaten and arrested today in Cairo. She tweeted, "Beaten arrested in interior ministry", sparking a Twitter-wide frenzy. The U.S. State Department responded via Twitter, saying "Reports of @monaeltahawy and @pangeaworld detention very concerning. @USEmbassyCairo engaging authorities. #FreeMona"

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The Associated Press has an update on the arrest of Jehane Nojaim.

AP -- An American film maker has told a colleague by phone that she was arrested by Egyptian police while documenting clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Jehane Nojaim's producer Karim Amer says she was detained and her camera was confiscated.

He said Wednesday he was separated from her after they both fled from tear gas.

Nojaim is an award-winning film maker of Egyptian ancestry, best known for her 2004 documentary "Control Room" about the pan-Arab news station, Al-Jazeera.

Clashes resumed for a fifth day in central Cairo despite a promise by the head of the ruling military council to speed transition to civilian rule, aiming for next July. Protesters demand that the military leave office now.

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@ liamstack : Arrested the moment CSF broke truce on mansur st "@hadeelalsh: American-Egyptian film maker Jehane Nojaim arrested by mil police in #Tahrir"

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The grand imam of Al-Azhar, the most important religious institution in Egypt, urged police to refrain from shooting on protesters, Al Arabiya reports.

Al-Azhar “calls on the police leadership to immediately issue orders not to point their weapons at demonstrators... no matter what the reasons,” grand imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb reportedly saidin a recorded address on state television.

“Al-Azhar also calls on our children in Tahrir Square and all the squares of Egypt to maintain the peaceful nature of their revolution, despite the sacrifices and difficulties they face and to protect all private and public property,” the imam added.

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Al Masry Al Youm reports Egypt's Health Minister Amr Helmy acknowledged the use of live ammunition, cartridges and rubber bullets against demonstrators in Tahrir Square.

Helmy also promised to launch a committee to examine the type of teargas that was fired at the protesters. He denied the use of nerve agent in the gas, as Mohamed ElBaradei suggested in a tweet yesterday.

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Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reports from Tahrir Square that Mohamed Mahmoud street is being hit with constant rounds of tear gas. Dozens of people are injured. Tadros says the protesters are putting up bonfires to create a buffer between the demonstrators and the police.

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Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

@ seldeeb : security firing at protesters near #tahrir: http://t.co/Jsgi1MMv via @twitpic (via @Menna_Medhat)

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The BBC's David Botti has an interesting piece on Mohamed Mahmoud street, site of most of the clashes in the past days.

Botti writes:

The street is largely unknown to the outside world - overshadowed by the street's neighbor, Tahrir Square. But its role in Egypt's struggle to navigate a post-revolution era mirrors that of the nation where violence still flares and people still demand change.

Read the article here.

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CNN's Ben Wedeman reporting discord between the Army and Central Security in Tahrir

@ bencnn : It is clear there is a serious disagreement between the Army and Interior Ministry over how to deal with the battle off #Tahrir #Egypt

@ bencnn : Saw Army soldiers trying to stop Central Security Forces from throwing rocks, shooting teargas, but they were outnumbered. #tahrir #egypt

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The International Crisis Group weigh in on whether or not to hold Egypt's scheduled elections next week.

The group writes:

There are valid arguments as to why elections cannot be held that early given ongoing violence and instability. But a postponement – at least without a consensus among political parties – could prove far more costly. It would further fuel concern about the SCAF’s intentions, further split the opposition, and antagonise the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which almost certainly would see this as an attempt to rob it of its expected strong showing. As for presidential elections, they should be moved up and held as soon as feasible.

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via Al Masry Al Youm

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The truce between protesters and police in Mohamed Mahmoud street is reportedly over. Associate Press reporter Hadeel Al Shalchi tweets there are bonfires in the street and clouds of tear gas are hanging over the area.

@ liamstack : I cannot believe the ceasefire just ended that way. No idea where this goes from here. #tahrir #egypt

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Al Masry Al Youm reports the United Nations Human Rights Chief called for an investigation into the death of portesters on Egypt's Tahrir square.

"I urge the Egyptian authorities to end the clearly excessive use of force against protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country, including the apparent improper use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay according to the newspaper.

"There should be a prompt, impartial and independent investigation, and accountability for those found responsible for the abuses that have taken place should be ensured," she added.

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A great set of photos from the protests yesterday in Tahrir Square by Mosa'ab Elshamy. Check them out here.

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@ AlArabiya_Eng : Egyptian troops deployed around the Interior Ministry in Cairo, replacing riot police #Tahrir

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@ TamerELG : On sale in #Tahrir: candied apples! In addition 2 almost anything else u can think of. Carnival atmosphere. Fighting continues on outskirts

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There appears to be a cease fire in place between protesters and security forces in Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Mohamed Mahmoud has seen the worst clashes in the past days.

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@ FRANCE24 : RT @FrancoisF24: #Tahrir Smoke by AUC library near interior min. Tear gas aimed at youths on rooftop. http://t.co/DhnodKdT

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The death toll in Egypt's clashes has risen to 37, Reuters writes. The Egyptian Health Ministry earlier said 32 people had been killed in the protests so far. 2,000 have been wounded.

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Clashes in Egypt on Wednesday center around the Interior Ministry, the Associated Press reports. Police and army troops are using tear gas and rubble bullets to keep protesters from storming th ebuilding.

The protesters say they have no wish to storm the ministry but were preventing the police and army from evicting them from Tahrir by pinning them down a safe distance away from the massive plaza.

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A building of the American University in Cairo is reportedly on fire.

@ ianinegypt : To clarify the old AUC building on fire is at the corner of Mohamed Mahmoud and Falaky. #egypt #tahrir

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@ kristenchick : Fireworks amid the tear gas on Mohamed Mahmoud St just now, outside AUC http://t.co/2QgCkSGq

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Nobel Peace Prize winner and Egyptian political leader Mohamed ElBaradei called the tear gas attack on Tahrir Square "a massacre" on twitter.

@ ElBaradei : Tear gas with nerve agent & live ammunition being used against civilians in Tahrir. A massacre is taking place

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@ sharifkouddous : Tear gas just hit the square forcing people to rush in all directions. Was on 9th floor balcony and was unbearable even here.

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Al Masry Al Youm uploaded this video on fighting earlier today in the streets near Tahrir Square.

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Twitter is exploding with tweets about tear gas in Tahrir. A lot of people are running from the square, through the streets.

Photo from tear gas on Bab el Louq Square, via @moftasa

Tear gas saturating bab el louq square. الغاز يشبع.      #tah... on Twitpic

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Reuters' reports from earlier today. Footage shows Mohamed Mahmoud street, a crucial road connecting Tahrir Square and the ministry of the interior.

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