Protests get bloody as Egypt picks sides

Anti-government protestors (front) clash with supporters of President Mubarak 
in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. Inset: A supporter of embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek rides a camel through the melee.

Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak, throwing petrol bombs, wielding sticks and charging on horses and camels, fiercely attacked demonstrators in Cairo yesterday after the army told protesters to clear the streets.

Anti-Mubarak protesters hurled stones back and said the attackers were police in plain clothes, a charge the Interior Ministry denied; the Egyptian government rejected international calls for the leader to end his 30-year rule now.

Opposition figurehead Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate, called on the army to intervene to stop the violence in Tahrir Square, the worst in the nine-day uprising against Mubarak since protesters fought street battles last Friday. But troops stood by and watched as the tumult raged.

There were reports of gunfire in the square, and state television said one person was killed and more than 400 people injured in the clashes.

Urging protesters to go home, the armed forces had earlier told protesters that their demands had been heard but some were determined to occupy the square until Mubarak quits.

Khalil, a man in his 60s holding a stick, wasn’t going anywhere. “We will not leave,” he told Reuters. “Everybody stay put.”

The emergence of Mubarak loyalists, whether ordinary citizens or police, thrust a new dynamic into the momentous events in this most populous Arab nation of 80 million people.

Mubarak went on national television Tuesday night to say he would not stand in elections scheduled for September but this was not good enough for the protesters, who demanded he leave the country immediately.

But Mubarak dug his heels in yesterday. A Foreign Ministry statement rejected U.S. and European calls for the transition to start immediately and said they “aimed to incite the internal situation in Egypt.”

Rich mull Mideast exodus

LONDON – Wealthy Arab families are asking their European private bankers how safe their money is as they consider moving their millions out of the troubled region, a Reuters poll shows.

Super-rich Arabs from the Gulf states and elsewhere in the Middle East have long been a staple for private bankers in the elite playgrounds of London and Geneva, where many of the region’s dynasties spend part of the year.

These banks offer red-carpet services to the world’s rich.

Museums worried

LONDON – International museums are on high alert for looted Egyptian artifacts and some archaeologists have even offered to fly to the country to help safeguard its ancient treasures, museums said yesterday.

The specter of the 2003 fall of Baghdad looms large in the minds of Egyptologists, when thousands of millennia-old artifacts were stolen or smashed by looters in the chaos following the fall of Saddam Hussein.

“We think that’s not going to happen because there is such a movement to protect the antiquities,” said Karen Exell, chairwoman of Britain’s Egypt Exploration Society.


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