CAIRO // Major violence broke out between pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo's central Tahrir Square this afternoon.
Several thousand supporters of President Hosni Mubarak, including some riding horses and camels and wielding whips, attacked anti-government protesters as Egypt's upheaval took a dangerous new turn.
In chaotic scenes, the two sides pelted each other with stones, and protesters dragged attackers off their horses.
The turmoil was the first significant violence between supporters of the two camps in more than a week of anti-government protests. It erupted after Mr Mubarak went on national television the night before and rejected demands he step down immediately and said he would serve out the remaining seven months of his term.
This morning, a military spokesman appeared on state TV and asked the protesters to disperse so life in Egypt could get back to normal. The announement could mark a major turn in the attitude of the army, which for the past two days has allowed protests to swell, reaching their largest size yet on Tuesday when a quarter of a million people packed into Tahrir Square.
Nearly 10,000 protesters massed again in Tahrir Square this morning, rejecting Mr Mubarak's speech as too little too late and renewed their demands that he leave immediately.
In the early afternoon , an Associated Press reporter saw around 3,000 Mubarak supporters break through a human chain of anti-government protesters trying to defend thousands gathered in Tahrir Square.
Chaos erupted as they tore down banners denouncing the president. Fistfights broke out as they advanced across the massive square in the heart of the capital. The anti-government protesters grabbed Mubarak posters from the hands of the supporters and ripped them.
The two sides began hurling stones and bottles and sticks at each other, chasing each other as the protesters' human chains moved back to try to shield the larger mass of demonstrators at the plaza's centere.
At one point, a small contingent of pro-Mubarak forces on horseback and camels rushed into the anti-Mubarak crowds, swinging whips and sticks to beat people. Protesters retaliated, dragging some from their mounts, throwing them to the ground and beating their faces bloody.
Protesters were seen running with their shirts or faces bloodied, some men and women in the crowd were weeping. A scent of tear gas wafted over the area, but it was not clear who had fired it.
The army troops who have been guarding the square had been keeping the two sides apart earlier in the day, but when the clashes erupted they did not intervene. Most took shelter behind or inside the armored vehicles and tanks stationed at the entrances to Tahrir.
According to one Twitterer, Arwasm, the Egyptian army unlocked one of the entrances to the square and pro-government protesters entered, some armed with knifes. Anti-government protesters outnumbered them and forced them to retreat, but "scores" of injured protesters were carried back into the square, she said.
Elsewhere in the square anti-government protesters chanted: "We will not leave, he will leave. According to AFP, Egyptian opposition activists said on that plain-clothes policemen have stormed Tahrir Square.
Egyptian internet services were restored today after the protests by demonstrators against Mr Mubarak had led to five days of closure. Internet service providers “returned to the internet” at 11.29 am in Cairo, the web security firm Renesys said today in a blog post. Internet traffic volumes to Googles search engine from Egypt were also increasing, according to the company’s transparency report.
Egyptian authorities had ordered connections to the internet to be shut down and mobile phone services to be suspended on on January 28. Vodafone said it has reinstated internet services in Egypt and is lobbying to "reactivat"’ SMS services in the country as quickly as possible. The company’s Egyptian clients are now able to access all Internet sites again, Vodafone spokesman Ben Padovan said today.
Egypt’s banks will reopen in four days' time, on Sunday February 6, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported today, without saying how it obtained the information. The central bank took the decision, it said. Banks have been closed all week.