Egyptian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and beat protesters to clear thousands of people from a central Cairo square after the biggest demonstrations in years against President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule.
Two protesters and a police officer were killed in the nationwide demonstrations inspired by Tunisia’s uprising, which also demanded a solution to Egypt’s grinding poverty and were likely to fuel growing dissent in a presidential election year.
Mobilised largely on the internet, the waves of protesters filled Cairo’s central Tahrir – or Liberation – Square on Tuesday, some hurling rocks and climbing on armoured police vans.
“Down with Hosni Mubarak, down with the tyrant,” chanted the crowds. “We don’t want you!” they screamed as thousands of riot police deployed in a massive security operation that failed to quell the protests.
As night fell, thousands of demonstrators stood their ground for what they vowed would be an all-night sit-in in Tahrir Square just steps away from parliament and other government buildings – blocking the streets and setting the stage for even more dramatic confrontations.
A large security force moved in around 1am, arresting people, chasing others into side streets and filling the square with clouds of tear gas. Protesters collapsed on the ground with breathing problems amid the heavy volleys of tear gas.
The sound of what appeared to be automatic weapons fire could be heard as riot police and plainclothes officers chased several hundred protesters who scrambled onto the main road along the Nile in central Cairo.
Some 20 officers were seen beating one protester with truncheons.
Some protesters turned violent amid the crackdown. They knocked down an empty white police booth and dragged it for several yards before setting it on fire, chanting that they want to oust the regime. A police pick-up vehicle was overturned and set ablaze behind the famed Egyptian Museum. Protesters also set fire to a metal barricade and blocked traffic on a major bridge over the Nile.
Twitter later announced that its service had been blocked in Egypt, and said that Twitter and its applications had been affected.