Clashes have erupted between pro and anti-government supporters in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, where thousands of demonstrators calling for the ejection of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have been keeping a vigil for days.
One eyewitness reported seeing members of the two sides hitting each other with sticks and some were injured, with their heads bleeding.
Mr Mubarak’s supporters were out in the streets for the first time in large numbers, with thousands demanding an end to the anti-government movement a day after the president went on national television and rejected demands for him to step down.
Those calling for Mr Mubarak to go have been out in Cairo and many other cities for more than a week, and they drew by far their largest crowd on Tuesday, when at least 250,000 packed Tahrir Square and the area around it.
Mr Mubarak’s supporters have been seen breaking through a human chain of anti-government protesters trying to defend thousands gathered in Tahrir.
They tore down banners denouncing the president and fist-fights broke out as they advanced across the massive square in the heart of the capital.
The anti-government protesters grabbed Mubarak posters from the hands of the supporters and ripped them.
The confrontations began just hours after a military spokesman went on national television and asked the protesters to disperse so life in Egypt could go back to normal.
During the clashes, soldiers who have been guarding the square did not appear to intervene.
Almost immediately after Mr Mubarak announced late on Tuesday night that he would serve out the remaining seven months of his term – but would not seek re-election in September – and would not leave the country, groups of his supporters rarely seen before in the week of anti-government protests took to the streets, some carrying knives and sticks.