CAIRO (Reuters) - Police fired teargas at Egyptian protesters who were camped out in the centre of Cairo early on Wednesday morning after a day of unprecedented protests calling for President Hosni Mubarak to end his 30 years of rule.
On Tuesday, two protesters and one police officer were killed in clashes.
“Down, Down Hosni Mubarak,” protesters chanted after they fled into side streets. Some threw stones at the police, who charged at them wielding batons to stop protesters regrouping in the square which was cleared by teargas canisters.
“Bullies,” fleeing protesters shouted. Others cried: “You are not men.” Reuters TV footage showed police spraying a water cannon on protesters as rows of police moved into the square.
Thousands of demonstrators had said they planned to stay out in Tahrir square in central Cairo until the government fell.
Some protesters and police had shared food and chatted on Tuesday evening, after a day when police fired teargas and water cannons and protesters hurled rocks. But the arrival of police reinforcements to surround those camped out raised tensions.
Demonstrators tore up pictures of the president and his son, Gamal, who many Egyptians say is being groomed for office. Both Gamal and Mubarak deny any such plan.
The United States, a close ally of Egypt and major aid donor, called for restraint from all sides to avoid violence.
Tuesday’s protests were held on a national holiday, when Egypt’s markets were closed. But Egyptian markets have already been wobbly following unrest in Tunisia in recent days.
On international markets, the cost of insuring Egypt’s debt against default or restructuring rose on Tuesday.
“Tomorrow, don’t go to work. Don’t go to college. We will all go down to the streets and stand hand in hand for you our Egypt. We will be millions,” wrote one activist on a group on Facebook, which has been a key tool mobilising demonstrators.
Web activists, who called for Tuesday’s “Day of Wrath” against poverty and repression, have become some of the most vociferous critics of Mubarak and his three decades in office.
Their complaints echo those of fellow Arabs in Tunisia: soaring food prices, a lack of jobs and authoritarian rule that usually crushes protests swiftly and with a heavy hand.
Tuesday’s demonstrations brought many thousands onto the streets of Cairo and several other cities in a coordinated wave of anti-government protests not witnessed since Mubarak came to office in 1981 after Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamists.
The population is growing 2 percent a year and has a “youth bulge,” with some 60 percent under 30 years old. Nine out of 10 jobless Egyptians are in this age group. About 40 percent of citizens live on less than $2 (£1) a day and a third are illiterate.
Demands by the protesters were posted on Facebook and passed around Tahrir square on slips of paper before police moved in.
They included calling for Mubarak to step down, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif to quit, parliament to be dissolved and the formation of a national government. A union activist repeated the demands to the crowd in the square by megaphone.
“We are glued to the ground here in Tahrir and will not move, not tomorrow, not the day after until this government falls,” said 35-year-old shopkeeper Sameh Adam, shortly before protesters emptied the square.
Protests on Tuesday also erupted in Alexandria, cities across the Nile Delta and in Suez and Ismailia, east of Cairo.
Two protesters in Suez were killed by rubber bullets, security and medical sources said. State television said one security officer died in Cairo because of a blow to the head from a stone that was thrown. Lawyers said dozens were detained.
The Interior Ministry, which had warned of arrests before Tuesday’s demonstrations, said it would welcome stationary protests for short periods. But in Cairo demonstrators took over major roads and blocked traffic across the capital.
The ministry blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for rioting that took place, although the banned Islamist group has only played a bit part in the protests. The group has even drawn the anger of its own youth members who say they have not been proactive enough.
Analysts say protests in Tunisia and developments across the region have made the claims of many Arab autocrats that they stand as bulwarks against Islamist radicals from sweeping power seem hollow.
Writing by Edmund Blair