Violence Escalates as Gunfire Breaks Out in Cairo Square

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

ByABC News
February 2, 2011, 9:15 AM

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.