Egypt protests turn nasty as Mubarak’s thugs join in
Pro-Mubarak thugs, paid by regime, have entered Tahrir Square looking for a fight
The scene in central Cairo has suddenly changed in the last few hours. Thousands of Egyptians loyal to President Mubarak - including secret police in plainclothes, according to some reports - have entered Tahrir Square and started fighting the pro-democracy demonstrators who want Mubarak out.
Some of them are riding horses and camels. Many are carrying weapons and firing live ammunition. There has been bloodshed reported, and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei told the BBC at 1.30 pm UK time that he fears Tahrir Square "will turn into a bloodbath".
ElBaradei believes the majority of the pro-Mubarak forces are thugs in the government's pay. Al-Jazeera TV claims its reporters have seen police ID cards taken from the pro-Mubarak supporters.
The Daily Telegraph's correspondent Colin Freeman contacted London with this vivid picture:
"People coming into Tahrir Square on horseback and on camels - it's getting very heated. Stones are flying everywhere. People getting attacked. The people on horses and camels are behaving like mounted police, backing up the pro-Mubarak forces.
"The sense in the crowd is that this is deliberate by the security forces - an attempt to spark violence and say 'this is what happens when you haven't got a government'."
The army has called on the protesters to return home and accept that Mubarak is going to stay in power until September, when he promises to stand down. But many believe it's a trick and very few of the protesters are prepared to accept Mubarak's "long goodbye". They want him gone immediately.
As my colleague Philip Jacobson wrote this morning for The First Post, the fact that President Obama's envoy was unable to persuade Mubarak to step down forthwith was bound to create a power vacuum. That vacuum has been filled very quickly by violence. There are now fears that what appeared to be a relatively peaceful people's coup will now turn extremely nasty.
The wealthy middle-class do not plan to throw their comfortable lifestyles away quite so quickly. We won't see the men in silk suits on Tahrir Square, but there are plenty of thugs happy to do their bidding.
Shortly before 3.0 pm UK time, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was reported to have called for transition from the Mubarak government "without delay". ·
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