Violence Escalates as Gunfire Breaks Out in Cairo Square

Gunfire breaks out, cars set on fire, fatalities reported overnight in Cairo.

CAIRO, Feb. 3, 2011 -- After a day of unprecedented violence, the night in Cairo gave way to armed chaos.

The Egyptian military stood neutral as pro- and anti-Mubarak crowds exchanged punches and rocks and Molotov cocktails. The question now becomes: How will the military respond now that bullets are flying through Liberation Square?

It was a very ugly night in Cairo--and it could shape up to be an even uglier day. This after violent protests all day Wednesday.

It's quieter now as dawn is breaking and people now are pouring into the square. But for at least two hours, in the pre-dawn hours, there was shooting, heavy shooting, into the protesters and into that square, where women and children also had been all night.

We will wait see how this day develops.

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On Wednesday, after five days of peaceful protests, the square suddenly was engulfed in all-out battle.

It did not look to be a spontaneous eruption. It appeared to be deliberately orchestrated political theater, a planned and organized bid by supporters of President Hosni Mubarak to send a message. The stage for the violence, Tahrir Square, was in full view of the world audience.

Anti-government demonstrators have occupied the square for more than a week.

The group rushing the square all came from one area and it happened all at once. As we stood on the roof of Associated Press television headquarters preparing to do a broadcast, we could see that down on the street, the throngs protesting had gone from a couple of hundred pro-Mubarak people to what looked thousands, all in very short order.

Then we saw men on horseback and camels rushing the square. The whole thing had the feel of an organized band of thugs moving in. That was when the pro- and anti-government demonstrators began fighting, throwing bricks with the army standing by.

Around 4 p.m., we started to hear gunshots and we could not be sure where they were coming from.

Some of those who began beating and throwing stones at the anti-government protesters were likely genuine Mubarak supporters, but others were wearing uniforms indicating they were government workers. Many looked to be agitators. It was widely thought that a number were police and security forces in civilian clothes.

Each time the pro-Mubarak forces charged them, the protesters fell back, only to inch forward again once the pressure had receded. There were Molotov cocktails. People the square were smashing the pavement.

Eventually the ground all around this historic square, in front of the Egyptian Antiquities museum, was ripped up and turned into projectiles. After a battle of several hours, the protesters were in control of the square again.

Christiane Amanpour: 'A Mob Was Swarming the Door'

Tensions erupted on a day that had begun with some improvements. The Internet was restored and curfew hours were shortened.

But even this morning, before the clashes, the jubilation of the last few days had already given way to an overwhelming sense of fear about how this is now going to go.

In Tahrir Square, protesters had been telling us two things. Some were saying that President Hosni Mubarak's announcement Tuesday night, in which he announced that he would not seek reelection, was not enough and that he has to go now.

Others told us that although they have protested against him, they want him to leave in an orderly fashion, with dignity.

A majority, it seemed, were concerned that if he left quickly, the economy and institutions could collapse, resulting in an explosion of crime and violence.

If Mubarak leaves precipitously, there could be real chaos. Mubarak's party had been sending a message on state TV regarding moves to restore law and order. The army, in a new statement on television, had urged the protesters to go home, "for the love of Egypt."

But when pro-Mubarak forces rushed the square, it turned the sentiments. We had gone over to interview Amr Moussa, the longtime President of the Arab League. He said the demonstrators had sent a clear message that the Arab world was ready for democracy.

As we left the Arab League headquarters, a band of angry pro-Mubarak demonstrators were already gathered around the Amr Moussa's headquarters. By the time we got to our office at the Associated Press TV, a mob was swarming the door.

Those opposed to change have clearly turned against the media. One of the women who works there later told us that as she approached the building with a camera in her hand, the crowd pulled her by her scarf, trying to pull her to the ground.

On Tuesday, two of our colleagues were arrested and roughed up by a plainclothes policeman who tried to seize their camera. After several young Egyptian men intervened and argued with them, they were let go. Our producer heard one of the young men mutter, "You see, we only have real freedom on the square."

Military Orders Everyone to 'Go Home'

Today, as we were trying to film on the bridge into Tahrir Square, an angry mob of pro-Mubarak protesters surrounded us and chased us into the car, shouting that they hated us and America. Some of the protesters kicked in the car doors and broke our windshield as we drove away.

As night fell, nobody was certain what would come next. There are fears that now the military and the people may now be headed for a showdown. The military amended its earlier request that "everyone go home."

Now they have issued an order: "Leave Tahrir Square."

Do you have questions about the mass protests in Egypt? Submit your questions to Christiane Amanpour HERE.