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Opponents, West press Mubarak after 6 killed

Cairo, February 3, 2011

Gunmen fired on anti-government protesters in Cairo, where fighting killed six and wounded over 800 and prompted new calls on Thursday from Western powers for President Hosni Mubarak to start handing over power immediately.

Thousands of angry young demonstrators on Tahrir Square said those who opened fire on them overnight were secret policemen.

They insisted their resolve had only hardened. Scornful of Mubarak's pledge on Tuesday to step down, but only in September, they vowed to stand firm until the 82-year-old leader is gone.

Opposition leaders including the liberal figurehead Mohamed ElBaradei and the mass Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood rejected a call to talks from Mubarak's new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. Only the president's departure and an end to violence would bring them to negotiations, they told Reuters.

The want free elections to tackle corruption and political repression which they blame for growing economic hardships similar to those frustrating people across the Arab world.

"One way or another we will bring Mubarak down," protesters chanted in the morning, amid rubble and burned out cars. "We will not give up, we will not sell out," others shouted.

Egypt's army and the Western powers which have supported it and Mubarak as bulwarks against radical Islam have key roles to play, as the president's supporters seek to rally those Egyptians with much to lose from a collapse of the old order. 
Army role

Many analysts see the army seeking to preserve its own 60-year-old position at the heart of secular Egyptian society by engineering a smooth removal of Mubarak, a former air force commander. On Monday, it called protesters' demands legitimate and pledged not to open fire, given heart to the opposition.

But on Wednesday, troops stood by as Mubarak loyalists charged Tahrir Square on horseback and camels, lashing out at civilians. After dark, several demonstrators were shot dead.

Only on Thursday morning did soldiers set up a clear buffer zone around the square to separate the factions. But that did not prevent new clashes, as groups pelted each other with rocks.

Soldiers with a tank pushed back Mubarak supporters.

The US, which gives Egypt's army some $1.3 billion a year, has made clear it wants Mubarak out, but has shied away from fully backing the opposition demands for him to leave the presidency immediately. The violence, however, has given fuel to international impatience with their Arab ally.

"This process of transition must start now," the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain said in a statement.

They echoed the message US President Barack Obama said he gave Mubarak in a phone call on Tuesday.

The European Union's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said her team had been calling Egypt overnight urging the army to protect the demonstrators and to give access for ambulances.

A senior US official said "somebody loyal to Mubarak has unleashed these guys to try to intimidate the protesters".

An Egyptian government spokesman called it a "fiction" to accuse ministers of orchestrating the violence. Demonstrators said over 100 attackers they seized were carrying documents associating them with the police or with Mubarak's ruling party. – Reuters




Tags: Egypt | Cairo | army | Mubarak | West | Opponents |

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