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Egyptian PM Apologizes for Violent Clashes

Published on Thursday 3rd February 2011

Egyptian soldiers have taken positions between pro- and anti-government protesters in Egypt's capital, where gunfire erupted early Thursday after violent clashes between the two sides.Several tanks were stationed near Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square, as thousands of anti-government protesters gathered there and built barricades.

Listen to VOA’s Luis Ramirez’s debriefer on the overnight clashes in Cairo:

One of the tanks stood on a highway overpass, where earlier Thursday, supporters of President Hosni Mubarak had been throwing rocks at anti-government protesters below.News reports cited witnesses as saying at least four people were killed in the latest violence that broke out before dawn.

Key Players in Egypt's Crisis

  • President Hosni Mubarak: The 82-year-old has ruled Egypt for 30 years as leader of the National Democratic Party. Egypt's longest-serving president came to power after the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat.
  • Mohamed ElBaradei: The Nobel Peace laureate and former Egyptian diplomat has gained international attention as a vocal critic of Mr. Mubarak and his government. Until recently he headed the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, and he has lived outside Egypt for years. ElBaradei founded the nonpartisan movement National Association for Change, and has offered to lead a transitional administration in Egypt if Mr. Mubarak steps down.
  • Vice President Omar Suleiman: The new Egyptian vice president has served as head of intelligence and is a close ally of President Mubarak. He earned international respect for his role as a mediator in Middle East affairs and for curbing Islamic extremism.
  • Ayman Nour: The political dissident founded the Al Ghad or "tomorrow" party. Nour ran against Mr. Mubarak in the 2005 election and was later jailed on corruption charges. The government released him in 2009 under pressure from the United States and other members of the international community.
  • Muslim Brotherhood: The Islamic fundamentalist organization is outlawed in Egypt, but remains the largest opposition group. Its members previously held 20 percent of the seats in parliament, but lost them after a disputed election in late 2010. The group leads a peaceful political and social movement aimed at forming an Islamic state.

Also Thursday, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized for violent clashes that broke out Wednesday when supporters of Mr. Mubarak surged into Tahrir Square and faced off against opposition demonstrators. He called the incident a "disaster" and said it would not happen again. In his news conference carried on state television, Mr. Shafiq also said he has begun talks with opposition members.
The anti-Mubarak opposition has called for more demonstrations Friday to press their demand for the president's departure.After Wednesday's violence, doctors set up a makeshift clinic in a mosque near Tahrir Square to help the more than 640 injured. Egypt's health ministry said the official death toll in the last 24 hours stands at five.Reporters said Egyptian troops initially fired warning shots in a bid to end the melee. But the military mostly restricted itself to guarding the Egyptian Museum and using water cannons to extinguish flames stoked by the firebombs.Anti-government protesters accuse Mr. Mubarak's government of unleashing paid vandals and undercover police to crush their unprecedented uprising. The Interior Ministry denied the charge.Mr. Mubarak, 82, announced late Tuesday he will not seek reelection in September, but he vowed to serve out his term until then. He spoke after an estimated 250,000 people flooded Tahrir Square to demand his resignation. Anti-Mubarak protesters also rallied in other major Egyptian cities.Egypt's newly appointed Vice President, Omar Suleiman, Wednesday urged all demonstrators to respect the curfew and go home, saying his dialogue with political forces depends on an end to street protests.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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