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Clashes in Tahrir Square
Aired February 2, 2011 - 08:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Note: NEWS STREAM was preempted by breaking news coverage in Egypt.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So it is obviously a very serious situation, even though you have these three things happen like an army of riders on horseback come in.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: These are unbelievable scenes unfolding in Tahrir Square in Cairo, as pro-and-anti-government demonstrators have been clashing. The army, the most powerful institution in the country, is sidelined. They can't use their tanks to break this up.
The police is MIA. Instead, what we are looking at live, right now, in the heart of Cairo are riders on horseback thundering through. We're looking at camels pushing away people from one another. And Egypt is charging toward an unpredictable and volatile situation.
One minute, the crowd is throwing sticks and stones at one another. The next minute, we're hearing from Ivan Watson on the ground that there are hugs and warmth and chants of "We are one!"
The message here is it's not over. Right? This is a dizzying scene of events that has just unfolded over the last one hour so. And leaders from around the world are getting that message.
MONITA RAJPAL, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Not over by a long shot, even though we heard Mr. Mubarak say yesterday that he had conceded and he will step down in September, he would not re-run again in the election. This seems to be not enough.
And what we're hearing from our folks on the ground is that the -- again, this is a lot of movement taking place, as you're seeing there right now. The pro-Mubarak protesters who have been out there for the last eight days, and now the -- sorry. The anti-Mubarak protesters have been out there for eight days, and now the pro-Mubarak supporters who are saying that, OK -- some are saying, you got what you wanted, now let's go back to normal life, saying it's not enough right now.
Even Avar Walkad (ph), a very prominent actor in Egypt, was saying this is a revolution.
Of course, CNN is there. And CNN will continue to bring you the very latest from Tahrir Square. We're not taking our eyes off the central Liberation Square there in the capital.
Let's go now to CNN's Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.
KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: All right. Monita and Zain, thank you.
A dizzying sight indeed, as you put it, Zain, as we're looking at these live pictures coming from central Cairo, of Tahrir Square, these mind- boggling and unsettling images that, no doubt, you saw just now with me of the men on horseback and on camelback, some of them wielding clubs and using them on the protesters there in Tahrir Square.
Now, we have been reporting on clashes taking place between pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak protesters there in Tahrir Square. Our reporters on the scene said earlier that they saw hugs and flag-waving. And now, horses and camels riding through the square, though it's not clear who is riding them.
The two sides have been throwing rocks and sticks at each other. And our correspondents say the military presence is there, but they have not moved at all. They've stayed at the sidelines. They have not moved in to stop the fighting.
Now, this is the ninth day of demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak, with pro-Mubarak protesters also turning out on the streets.
And our Ivan Watson joins us now from Cairo.
And Ivan, earlier, you were reporting on scenes of reconciliation between the two camps in the square. What are you seeing now.
WATSON: Well, Kristie, that disappeared. That spirit of brotherhood disappeared when a column of men on horseback and camels charged from the pro-Mubarak side, hacked the Egyptian Museum towards the anti-Mubarak demonstrators. And suddenly, everything fell to pieces again.
And we once again had vicious fighting again here. The horseback riders were flogging the demonstrators with whips and flogs. And then the anti- Mubarak people started pulling them off their feet.
I saw a horse get pulled down to the ground. And then, as the people on horseback and camels actually had to retreat, then people were throwing stones of them.
So now we've had a series of scuffles breaking out, people trapped on the ground, getting beaten, surrounded by a group of their opponents. And the situation is once again tense.
I can see stones being hurled back and forth over the Egyptian tanks. That seemed to be the middle ground, the battleground, the contested ground between these two camps.
And again, a remarkable turn of events here where the people were standing side by side, somewhat peacefully, engaged in debate or chanting at each other. But that line of horses that came through dispelled whatever moment of brotherhood we had just seen here.
And it just shows you how fluid events are on the ground here, how much tempers have frayed, particularly some of these people saying that they have not slept in more than a week because they've been out protecting their homes as part of these neighborhood watch groups. And that had certainly added to the tension that is being felt out here on these very turbulent streets -- Kristie.
STOUT: Ivan, is there any idea who those men on camelback and horseback wielding the whips and clubs and using them on the protesters, who they are?
WATSON: They came from the side of the pro-Mubarak demonstrators and charged through them, slugging some of the people on that side, and then continuing deep into the anti-Mubarak demonstrators. No idea who their identity would be, but it's interesting now to see the folks who had been demonstrating against the government now dragging barriers down the streets. It seems like they're going to try to set up barricades to protect their turf from the regime supporters.
Meanwhile, the stones are being hurled, continue to be hurled back and forth. And now it seems that the regime supporters are being pushed back hundreds of yards out of Tahrir Square.
You know, Kristie, earlier in the morning here, it was very clear that there was a lot of aggression on the streets. We were being literally nearly attacked by regime supporters who were running out, very aggressive, very hostile and angry, accusing us of being reporters for Al Jazeera. And we had to break through some of these people to reach the square, and that's when this battle erupted here. And we were pressed against the walls as the stones were being thrown back and forth, and barely were able to squeeze into the safety of a hotel overlooking these tumultuous events and street battles that are taking place here -- Kristie.
STOUT: Ivan, this is a very hostile situation, as you put it. We can speak in broad language, saying that there are anti-Mubarak protesters there and pro-Mubarak protesters there, but are you seeing women, children, the elderly?
Who is out there in Tahrir Square in this very dangerous situation?
WATSON: There are some women, and some of them were in danger of being overrun by the masses of people who were charging back and forth. I was caught behind a burned-out police carrier, police truck that was burned out last Friday with a screaming woman who was just terrified at the violence that was erupting around her.
And there are some women walking around here in the square amid the crowd of anti-regime demonstrators. You know, they are not on the front lines of the clashes right now. And it really does seem that the regime supporters have truly been pushed back quite a distance and that the demonstrators against the regime have managed to secure their hold on this strategic patch of territory in central Cairo that has been a symbol of defiance now for more than a week. They are not willing to give up this territory, and they have been camping, actually, in tents on this ground for the last two nights as well -- Kristie.
STOUT: OK. Ivan, please --
WATSON: I'm sorry. I'm watching people carry a wounded man down the street. I'm imagining that there are going to be a number of injuries as a result of these battles with the amount of stones that were hurled in the air.
We saw blood on the ground. I'm seeing a second man being carried down the street, and I can imagine there was a makeshift clinic about a block or two away from there with a couple of overworked doctors who were treating people who were being shot on Saturday in front of the Interior Ministry. I imagine that they are going to be doing triage right now to take care of the wounded people that we are seeing streaming away from the front lines of the street clashes.
STOUT: All right, Ivan. Stay on the line for us.
We are going to take our audience live to that makeshift hospital where the wounded -- you're looking at live pictures on our screen of these clashes under way at Tahrir Square -- where the wounded from these clashes are being taken to.
Ivan, stay there. We'll get back to you.
Let's go to our Ben Wedeman. He's there at the hospital.
Ben, what kind of injuries are you seeing.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm seeing there are dozens of people lying on the street, on mats and carpets that have been set up. All of them with wounds caused by rocks.
And this is not even a hospital. What this is, it's a mosque that, a few days ago, was turned into sort of a field hospital for people wounded in clashes, and now for these riots which have taken place.
Right in front of me there's a man who has a big gash on his head. They're applying bandages and iodine to his wounds. But there are literally dozens of people here sitting and lying on the ground, as more are coming the whole time.
Of course the problem is that just down the block from here, there's a group of pro-Mubarak demonstrators who want to get into this clinic. There's a group of men who have linked arms at the end of the road to stop anybody from approaching this makeshift field hospital.
And it certainly comes as no surprise that there are so many people who have been wounded in these clashes. We were right in the middle of it, and there's just rocks flowing, flying in every single direction, pieces of metal sticks. Whatever anybody could pick up they were throwing -- Kristie.
STOUT: And Ben Wedeman is joining us, reporting from this makeshift hospital there near the scene, the scenes of what we're looking at live on our screen of these clashes under way in Tahrir Square.
And Ben, who are the wounded? Are you seeing both Mubarak supporters, as well as opposition protesters? Are they being put together and treated together in the same room, or separated?
WEDEMAN: It's impossible to tell. I mean, they're all Egyptians, so you can't say who is who.
This clinic has, of course, over the past few days, has been used by the anti-government movement. But nobody is asking those who are being carried in whether they're pro or anti-government -- Kristie.
STOUT: Of course. And tell us about the resources there at the hospital. Are the doctors there overworked? Are they well-equipped to deal with the injuries that are coming in?
WEDEMAN: Well, there are a lot of volunteer doctors, because as I said before, this is really a mosque and not a hospital at all. In fact, there's a sign on the front of the mosque which says, "We don't need any contributions."
It appears that they may have enough for the moment, enough material. But as I said, they're very busy with a huge number of people who have been brought here with wounds from rocks -- Kristie.
STOUT: And Ben, any sort of security presence there at the hospital?
WEDEMAN: There's no security presence anywhere. There's the army. The police, of course, disappeared days ago.
The only security presence is army tanks and personnel carriers who, for one reason or another, simply did nothing to try to stop these massive clashes between the two sides. I just watched as soldiers hunkered down inside the turrets of the tanks and did nothing, not even a warning shot to disperse the crowd fired in the air. Nothing. Nothing.
STOUT: Ben Wedeman, joining us from a makeshift hospital from near the scene of what we're looking at right now, the clashes under way in Tahrir Square. We will get back to Ben shortly.
Let's go back to our Ivan Watson, who is watching events under way, watching these pictures unfolding in real time there in Cairo.
Ivan, what are you seeing now? And the security situation, does the military really continue to sit on the sidelines?
WATSON: The military are not sitting on the sidelines. They're right in the middle of this, Kristie. But they're buttoned up in their tanks.
Their hatches are closed. They are not playing any role whatsoever here, except that their armored vehicles are providing cover for the two warring factions.
In the last minute we've seen that the pro-regime demonstrators have started to advance again on Tahrir Square, hurling stones in a deadly -- you know, deadly battle of just stones being hurled back and forth between the two sides. And we continue to see wounded people now streaming back, dozens of them now with blood streaming from their heads, clearly hit in these clashes. Periodically, there will be one person surrounded by a mob of opponents that are then beating that person.
One of the surprising things that I saw as this first -- these altercations were first erupting, Kristie, were some men kneeling down amid the stone- throwing, praying, praying on the asphalt as people were fighting around them. Some kind of symbol of peace amid the fighting that had been going on.
And we also see signs here of (INAUDIBLE) anti-Mubarak demonstrators. You can see them building a human wall to protect their turf in case the other side comes forward.
And Kristie, you know, this is -- it's really chilling to watch this, because there is mob rule right now. A single person will be surrounded by dozens of people punching and kicking them, and they'll be beaten on the ground. And we're seeing that unfold in pockets around here, pockets of just angry violence, while the stone-throwing street battle continues.
And unbelievable, Kristie, right now. There are two men kneeling and praying in between the two sides that are hurling stones over them. There's a patch of territory in between, and these two men kneeling in the empty asphalt between the two sides, praying as the stones are hurled back and forth. And this, right in front of the Egyptian Museum, one of the biggest tourist destinations in the Egyptian capital.
STOUT: Ivan, just now we were looking at what appeared to be live pictures of people praying. And right next to the scene of people praying, obviously pro-and-anti-Mubarak demonstrators clashing, throwing punches, fighting with each other. It seems that there in the square, we're seeing different scenes -- scenes of prayer and stillness, and scenes like this one.
From your vantage point, what are you seeing?
WATSON: There is just -- anywhere you look, there is some form of human drama playing out here -- moments of extreme violence, attempts at some kind of a rational behavior. You still have, you know, people taking photos and just talking amongst themselves. You still have women walking around away from where the stone-throwing is taking place.
And over in the center of the square, I'm looking at several hundred people lined up on their knees praying in the direction of Mecca, even as the vicious street battles are taking place just 200, 300 yards away. And it just gives you a sense of how turbulent the situation is and how the different reactions are from the Egyptian people after more than a week of historic demonstrations that seemed to have pushed Egyptian society to the point of really old street battles. There's no other way to describe this.
STOUT: It is incredible. Isn't it, Ivan?
WATSON: And what's also striking to see is that the soldiers -- what's striking to see also is that the soldiers who had been playing a somewhat neutral position and had been helping to kind of maintain some law and order up until today have completely ceded this territory. They've stopped playing any role whatsoever.
We're looking right now at about a half-dozen men carrying a wounded man laying on his back, clearly wounded, down the street here. And I've probably seen at least 20 men being carried like this. And it's terrible.
The man is bleeding from the head. And I imagine he's going to be carried perhaps to this makeshift clinic that my colleague Ben Wedeman is at which has seen far too much action, far too many wounded people, certainly on Friday and Saturday, when there was still deadly clashes going on involving the Interior Ministry and the anti-Mubarak demonstrators.
STOUT: Now, Ivan, I still can't get over the contrasting images --
WATSON: You can see the --
STOUT: -- that we've been watching just live on our screens. I don't know if you were able to see it just now, but on our screen, watching not only the injure, the wounded being taken away, chaos and pandemonium in another corner of Tahrir Square. But right there on our screen, prayer taking place, order, contemplation, reflection. It's extraordinary.
Could you pull back a bit and tell us more about just how large the square is, how many people are there?
WATSON: Well, this square -- I'm not sure I could make a geographical comparison. It's the size of several football fields. Unfortunately, we're looking now again, Kristie, at another wounded man being brought out, clearly in a semiconscious state right now.
There are thousands of people here. This is not the mass of humanity that we saw on Tuesday, during what was described as the "Million Man March."
There's much more open space here. The tents that we saw erected here have been removed.
This is territory that, yesterday, the demonstrators against President Hosni Mubarak, they were literally claiming this territory for themselves, saying that, "We will not leave until Hosni Mubarak steps down." And late Tuesday night, we heard "boos" and the chant of "Leave, leave, Mubarak!" coming moments after he said he would complete his term before elections that would probably take place in September.
And now we see that these demonstrators are willing to put their lives on the line. They're willing to fight to protect this symbolic patch of territory in the center of Cairo from the pro-regime demonstrators who clearly tried to come in here. And I spoke with many of these pro-regime demonstrators this morning, and they insisted that they were the true Egyptians, and that the people who had been in the center here were some kind of traders that were betraying a heroic president, Hosni Mubarak, who they described as a war hero from the 1973 war against Israel.
We're watching another terribly bloodied man who's being beaten by men as he's being carried back. Just scenes of vicious anger against a guy who's clearly suffering from serious head wounds.
So, amid the scenes of prayer here, Kristie, there are also scenes of blind rage and violence. And it just shows you how turbulent the situation is and how much this has thrown Egyptian society into confusion right now. I think a lot of Egyptians don't understand what's really happening in their country right now -- Kristie.
STOUT: And as Egyptians who are not participating in these protests are watching these scenes unfold, are their feelings changing, feelings changing away from hope and optimism to fear about their country's future?
WATSON: You know, as the pro-Mubarak demonstrations were organizing, and as the streets were filling with those demonstrators chanting, "Long live Mubarak!" this morning, I overheard one man say, "Vive Mubarak," in French. He said, "Mubarak is a hero. He's a great man."
And I said, "Well, does that mean that you were against the demonstrations that were calling for his resignation?" And the man said, "No. Those demonstrations were good, those protests were good, because it forced our president to say he was not going to run for office again, that he would prepare for a peaceful transition of power. But now it's time to stand up and defend him and bring life back to some form of normality."
So you see how some Egyptians had found a kind of nuanced middle ground between perhaps two more extreme camps that we are seeing still clashing on the streets of downtown Cairo.
STOUT: OK. Let's go from our Ivan Watson there, Tahrir Square -- thank you, Ivan -- to our Hala Gorani, who is in the middle of it all there, amidst the clashing protesters.
Hala, what are you seeing?
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, I've got to say, I'm still just a little bit shaken. I was rushed by a crowd of protesters running in the opposite direction toward the outskirts of the square when there was a scuffle between protesters.
Just a few minutes before, horses and camels came charging in. It was quite a surreal scene, I have to say.
I was then sort of glued up against a barrier. And at that point, one of the pro-Mubarak protesters came up to me threatening me, telling me, "No, no" to get out of there. I was a little bit fearful.
Another protester came to my aid, protected me, and said, "Don't touch her, she is with me." I've got to say, I might owe my safety right now to one of those protesters who decided to protect me at that point.
It is absolutely chaotic right now down there. I reached pretty much the center of the line where the anti and the pro-Mubarak groups had reached a high point of tension.
Some rocks a few minutes before had been thrown. I was being told to move out of the way when the rush started.
I then had to join the group of protesters running in the opposite direction. I then ran as fast as I could, at that point fearing that I would get trampled, to be quite honest with you. And then got, again, sort of plastered against one of the barricades, one of the sort of gates leading out of the square, and ran as fast as I could all the way back to our live position.
I'm fine, but I've got to say, this is a situation that can turn on a dime. There is a lot of anger coming from those protesters. Some of them seem intent in causing trouble, Kristie.
They are attacking journalists. If they see someone who looks Western, they're coming up to them and threatening them with violence.
So this is the situation right now. I wasn't able to make it to the other side of the protests, where the anti-government demonstrators have gathered. It really wouldn't have been prudent to go that far.
So that is the situation from my vantage point -- Kristie.
STOUT: Well, Hala, we're very thankful that you made it to safety. And since you were down there amidst the protests earlier -- you know, we knew that there was going to be trouble once the pro-Mubarak demonstrators got there to the square. But was there a trigger, was there a single event that made the two crowds suddenly become violent?
OK. Hala, it's Kristie in Hong Kong. I don't know if you can hear me.
I think we just lost Hala, but we heard a very riveting account from her about her experience there, caught up in the chaos and the pandemonium there in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Let's go now to our Nic Robertson in Alexandria. He's monitoring the situation there.
And Nic, are you seeing any of the scenes like what we've been seeing unfold in real time in Cairo this day?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, so far we haven't.
There was a violent clash between pro-and-anti-Mubarak supporters last night, where 12 people were injured. But what we have seen here today is something similar to the scenes earlier today in Cairo, where pro-Mubarak supporters have been coming out very volatile, very angry, and handing out flyers like this one.
This is the one that they handed out before, and you can perhaps just see that there are two sides to this page. And on one side they have the anti- Mubarak statement, and on the other side they have the pro-Mubarak statement.
So what they're making very clear by this professionally-made flyer that these random groups of people have been appearing with is making it very, very clear that there are two opposing positions here. And we understand today that there are already dual protests going on, as we have seen in Cairo as well, where you have pro-Mubarak supporters. We've just seen a group of them go down the street here, a relatively small group. Plus, not far away, the anti-Mubarak supporters.
And it seems here in Alexandria as if the ground is being prepared for similar scenes that we've seen in Cairo. The difference here in Alexandria is there isn't a Tahrir Square, if you will, where people have been permanently positioned in huge numbers. But it seems almost inevitable at this stage in Alexandria as if these groups of pro-and-anti factions are going to clash at some point.
And this city is very, very tense at the moment. It is almost surreal, however. We are seeing more traffic on the streets that we've seen up until now. But the passions and anger, the level and temperature, feels like it's rising here -- Kristie.
STOUT: So the potential for clashes between pro-and-anti-Mubarak groups is there, where you are, in Alexandria.
Let's bring up these scenes, live scenes at Tahrir Square in Cairo, where we are watching these violent clashes under way.
And Nic, who, again, joins us from Alexandria, elsewhere in Egypt, who are these pro-Mubarak protesters? Who is organizing them? Is the government playing a role?
ROBERTSON: It's not clear, Kristie, who's organizing them. Clearly, they have a vested interest, and clearly they feel their voice isn't being heard.
We did hear from one pro-Mubarak supporter yesterday who was in the midst of the anti-Mubarak rally. And I said to him, "Don't you feel that you're worried and concerned?" And he said, "No. If this is democracy, then I can say my words."
So we have been seeing sort of a small increase in the pro-Mubarak sentiment. But since President Mubarak's appearance on TV last night, and his statement that he will not run for office, but he will stay in power for some time to oversee a period of transition in the run-up to the elections, we have seen this emergence of these groups. And flyers like this one and posters printed out with photographic imagines of Hosni Mubarak and a statement, "Hosni Mubarak is close to my heart" on those flyers that were being handed out, do show a level of preparation and organization.
Somebody has printed these out in large numbers, flyers for people to hand out. And that is very different from what we've seen with the anti-Mubarak demonstrations where it had been for the most part hastily written -- handwritten signs, people writing on their shirts, which has appeared a lot more spontaneous. These flyers give a clear indication that there is a level of organization, and this is just suddenly sprung up this morning -- Kristie.
STOUT: OK. Nic Robertson joining us live from Alexandria. Thank you, Nic.
Let's go back to our Hala Gorani who is in the thick of it all when the clashes broke out in Tahrir Square. She joins us again in Cairo. And Hala, tell us more about what you saw and experienced when you were in the square. For example, what were people chanting? What were the slogans being used, the signs people were holding?
GORANI: Well, Kristie, the signs were pro-Mubarak, signs as Nic there mentioned. Many of them looked sort of rather professional, other banners looked a little bit more amateurish, perhaps a hastily typed out on a computer and printed out. I walked into Tahrir Square there along with the pro-Mubarak protesters. My intention was to get to the center of the square where the two groups, where the tension between the two groups is at its highest right now that I've seen.
I was rushed by a crowd of people running in the opposite direction when a surreal scene broke out -- camels and horses started charging into Tahrir Square. At that point, I was rushed and a group of people -- my fear, or my initial fear was that I would get trampled. I was a bit shaken by it. And then was slammed against a gate, a gate that was lining one of the streets coming out of Tahrir Square. At that point, one of the pro-Mubarak demonstrators came up to me, seeing me, figured out I was a journalist and started threatening me and started getting very close to me. At that point, another protesters protected me and said don't touch her, she is with me, she is with me.
So it's really sometimes, as I have to say on this one, the kindness of strangers that I owe my safety to, because I really think that some of these pro-Mubarak protesters are intent on causing trouble, on threatening journalists, on making sure that they blame openly some of these journalists for the coverage that they consider has been anti-Mubarak.
So at that point slammed up against the gate, I thought I was sort of shielded from the rush of people, but that's when another charge happened and I started running as fast as I could out of the square frankly, yet again fearing that I would be trampled. At that point, I ended up under an underpass. Another charge happened, another rush of people, and I ran back to our live position.
So that is the situation from my vantage point. I was never able to get to the other side of the line where the anti-government protesters have gathered in Tahrir Square. It would not have been safe to do so, Kristie.
STOUT: OK, Hala on this live feed coming in from Tahrir Square, we can see and make out the protesters there throwing objects -- stones, rocks, I'm not sure. When you were down there in the square what did you see people wielding? Was it just stones and rocks and sticks or something else?
GORANI: I saw rocks -- no I didn't see anything more lethal than rocks, but I was I would say about 10, 15 yards away from where these stone- throwing, rock-throwing demonstrators were hurling objects at each other. I didn't see anything more than that. Tanks were parked there in the center of the square. The military was looking on. They were not intervening. So this situation that is getting more and more tense, unless it is stopped I can't see how it won't escalate because the anger on the side that I was on, the pro-Mubarak groups whoever they are, whoever sent them, that anger has reached fever pitch right now. And they are it seems intent on causing scuffles. They have come here with the intention of causing conflict it seems -- at least some of them.
And the anger directed at the journalists as well, many crews sort of local crews, local journalists I spoke to, one al Arabiya crew was attacked as well as some of our own journalists and the threat against me only tells me that these are demonstrators that want to cause conflict right now, they want to cause trouble Kristie.
STOUT: And Hala, just another question for you, as the entire world is watching this, of course, all of Egypt if they can are perhaps able to talk about this through various networks. Do you think that the Egyptians will look at the pro-Mubarak demonstrators as the troublemakers in all of this? Where will the national sympathy lie?
GORANI: It's very hard to tell. It's incredibly hard to make any kind of prediction, Kristie. Yesterday after President Mubarak's speech in which he told his people he would not step down right away but not run for reelection in September, there was a feeling that perhaps this would take the passion out of the protests. Well, the exact opposite seems to have happened with these pro-Mubarak demonstrators. As small as the group is, it is causing tensions and it is causing the situation to inflame itself again.
So the wider population looking on, who they will blame, well potentially they might blame these pro-Mubarak groups, these rioters, the stone- throwers for making a difficult situation a lot worse. But again, it's important to wait and see at this point how this all unfolds, because if it stops now it's already bad enough, but if it gets worse and people end up getting hurt or it's security forces or the military has to step in to stop this from escalating, then we're looking at a whole new situation and a whole new crisis for the country.
STOUT: OK, Hala I don't know if you have access to the video feed that I'm looking at right here in our production center in Hong Kong. Let me describe it to you. We've been looking at a number of protesters, demonstrators there in Tahrir Square digging up -- using various tools, their hands, stone, what have you -- digging up the road or the surface of Tahrir Square presumably to use the bricks perhaps as weapons. Of course, I'm speculating here. Are you seeing this Hala? What is going to happen - - will the violence escalate?
GORANI: Yes, I'm looking at the same feed here. I'm looking at, Kristie. And this is definitely an escalation from 10 minutes ago. This is not what I witnessed when I was there. At that point, it was only just a few small rocks, now we're seeing people dig up what looks like the stone right out of the street trying to make projectiles out of them and hurl them. What you're seeing there is, and I think this is a live image right there, the sort of the flow of individuals in and out of the square as we look at this live picture here on the screen.
So, it's just a question of who ends up getting hurt, how bad the violence because, but this is an escalation from just minutes ago, Kristie.
STOUT: OK. We are looking at quite a movement of people. Are they going into the square or out of the square? Where are they heading?
GORANI: I am trying to determine that myself. I just can't tell you right now with any degree of accuracy. The movements depend on the scuffles, depend on how many people are rushing out of the square if they feel that it's too dangerous to stay there. The people I'm seeing here might actually be walking away from the square, but I would not want to make that statement with 100 percent confidence at this point.
But the military, again, did not intervene. So they are looking on. When I was slammed up against the gate, on the other side of that gate there were military officers looking on. They were not -- they were not coming down from their APCs and their tanks, they were staying there on the sidelines looking on. So it really, Kristie, will be a question of whether or not they move in to try to prevent this from escalating.
STOUT: All right. Hala Gorani joining us live from Tahrir Square. Thank you very much indeed.
Now earlier our Anderson Cooper, he's also there in Cairo. He was on our sister network CNN USA and he was talking about how his crew was roughed up there in the square.
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COOPER: I think there's little doubt this is being orchestrated. For what reason, I can't say. But let me just set the scene for you right here, the Egyptian museum is behind me, that is now kind of ground zero for the confrontation between the pro-Mubarak forces and the anti-Mubarak forces. I'm not sure how accurate you can see, but on the right -- the right of the museum are the by and large the anti-Mubarak forces and all in this area on the left of the museum are the pro-Mubarak forces.
What is most disconcerting is that I'm looking down now and I'm seeing hundreds more people, mobs of -- groups of pro-Mubarak supporters who are on their way to the square. If we can kind of show you -- it's a little bit of a walk for them, but there's one group down below me, there's another large group of several hundred people carrying banners, carrying large Mubarak signs -- not the kind of signs you make overnight, those are well produced signs. Clearly these people had been called to come down here. The state television, which is controlled of course by the Egyptian government, is calling these pro-stability demonstrators. They're not pro- Mubarak, their being described as pro-stability demonstrators in Arabic.
But the flash point right now is right in front of the Egyptian museum. That's where I was just about 15 minutes ago, we were trying to make our way to kind of the no-man's land between the two groups. We never got that far. We were set upon by pro-Mubarak supporters punching us in the head, attacking my producer Marianne Fox (ph), my cameraman as well, trying to grab his camera, trying to break his camera. They at first started going for the camera. They didn't want any pictures taken. But frankly, we weren't even really taking pictures with the big camera, I was using a little Flip camera, which they didn't notice, but the big camera they were trying to grab it.
We immediately started to turn around. We realized the situation would get very bad very quickly. We turned around and started to walk just calmly. The crowd kept growing, kept throwing more punches, kicks, trying to grab us. It was pandemonium. I mean, there was really no control to it. Suddenly a young man would come up look at you and then punch you right in the face. You know, the instinct is to try to punch back or push back, but in a situation like that you really can't, because that just inflames the crowd all the more, so all we could do was just try to walk as quickly as possible, stay together and seek a safe location which is where we are now. And every one in my team is fine.
But the two groups have been separated. There is a no man's land of maybe 300, 400 feet between them at this point. What is so shocking, and I said this before when I called in, is that the Egyptian military is just standing by. I mean, they have controlled the chock points to this area for the last nine days. This area over here where you can see some Mubarak supporters starting to enter, there are military checkpoints there that they have been over many days have been checking IDs, have preventing people from getting in if they didn't want people to get in. They are allowing people to get to the square. They are allowing these pro-Mubarak demonstrators to get to the square.
Now look, you can see the entire crowd is running, the entire pro-Mubarak crowd seems to be running. From this vantage point, it's hard to tell why that happens. Sometimes they're running after an individual, they'll get one person starts to run after somebody and then everybody will join in. You'll get 20, 30, 40 people running after somebody, trying to beat them up if they can.
At this point, it looks like it could get a lot worse, because you have these pro-Mubarak supporters hording into the area. I'm seeing at least 300 more of them right now who are gathered down on the street in a station ground, and it looks like they are now going to be walking toward this area where the other supporters are.
It could become a battle of numbers at this point. There are still more anti-Mubarak supporters than pro-Mubarak supporters, but those numbers could change very quickly if state TV is any way encouraging people to come, or if any groups are encouraging people to come. But this could get ugly very quickly unless the Egyptian military decides to start to intervene.
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STOUT: And that was Anderson Cooper earlier reporting on the situation, the clashes underway in Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital, describing the scene as sheer pandemonium.
Our Ivan Watson is there. He's been watching the events there for us. He joins us live once again. And Ivan, since the last time we talked, has the situation gotten worse? Is the violence escalating?
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'd say we still have an ebb and flow of battles taking place here in the direction of the Egyptian museum here just about 100 yards away in the street here. That's where the front line has been between these two factions. And we just saw the regime supporters push forward in a hail of stone and then get pushed back.
Now, Kristie, we're going to pan down here now to show you how this is just going to proceed to escalate. We see people digging up more ammunition, more stones right now, from the curb from the construction site here preparing themselves for more battle. Now, this has been going on now for about an hour. And you can see people digging up more stones, more curb stones and preparing themselves to defend this patch of territory.
On one of the loud speakers here, and we're in the territory that's controlled by the anti-Mubarak demonstrators, we're hearing a man over the loud speaker yelling revolution, revolution.
STOUT: Ivan, where is the military, where is the police?
I don't know if you heard me just then. Where are the security forces?
WATSON: Let's -- we're going to pan the camera over just to show you really what role they are not playing right now. You see these tanks over here, Kristie, that are parked right at the edge of the crowd of anti- Mubarak demonstrators? Those are tanks that are parked right now with soldiers inside that are not doing anything. And that has been really the front-line between the two camps right in front of the Egyptian museum. That is where the clashes have been taking place that has been the front- line. And periodically, periodically the Mubarak supporters have pushed forward in a hail of stones and they've managed to push back the anti- Mubarak demonstrators. And then the force of numbers here or, I'm not really sure what it is, then the regime supporters get hurled back again.
This is -- people are paying a price for this. We're seeing again and again bloody people being brought back here into Tahrir Square, blood streaming from their faces, unconscious. Here's another one -- another young man being pulled out, you can see being carried out on some kind of a makeshift stretcher. It's actually a real stretcher. Being pulled back. Somebody is trying to bandage his face right now as he's taken away, somebody who was clearly caught in the fights that are erupting on the front line.
Now perhaps more disturbing, Kristie, is when we see people on this side capturing one of their opponents, there's no other way to describe it. And that person is led away, pulled by their coat and people punch and kick them as he goes.
Now we're hearing some loud banging here. Demonstrators here pounding on the metal barriers around this construction site here. Could you call them war drums? I'm not sure what else to call that. An ominous new signal that's being sent out now in the midst of what has been more than an hour of vicious street battles between partisans of the two camps here in downtown Cairo, an area that until more than a week ago would have been thronged with tourists and business people and now is a front line right now between opposing sides.
Listen to this, Kristie.
Some of the men are chanting "Allahu akbar," god is the greatest. And I can't describe this as anything else but war drums really in the midst of these street clashes that are taking place here even as right next to them men are working with sticks and with crowbars to dig up more paving stones to use in the ongoing battle that are erupting and continuing to erupt in front of the Egyptian museum.
STOUT: And Ivan, erupt -- we can see quite clearly a woman holding a child amidst all this walking through the square. She's right there behind the tree. The camera just panned away.
WATSON: We do see ordinary people there actually -- women walking around away from where the melee has been erupting, clearly not participating in the street fights, but there are some women here, not very many children left. Now I see a man holding hands with two children walking through the square right now. So these are not just militants on both camps that are involved in the clashes, these are some of these demonstrators that we've seen over the course of the past week here.
STOUT: Ivan, these are extraordinary and very unsettling scenes. As you've been describing the protesters using the square in these clashes, using its walls as a sort of war drum, using its bricks as weapons, live pictures here of crowds rushing ahead. Can you make sense of the situation?
WATSON: -- you can see -- Kristie, right now we can see a group of the regime supporters pushing forward through the tanks, moving forward on the anti-regime demonstrators. But the stone throwing seems to have died down a little bit.
And what's really remarkable about the two camps that we've seen here, many of them have used the same symbolism, Kristie, and that is the Egyptian flag. That is something that both sides were carrying this morning before the street clashes erupted, a symbol of patriotism, a symbol of nationalism. And despite that, the vicious street battles have erupted between two sides that have led to I would say now dozens of injuries just from my vantage point overlooking where the protesters against Hosni Mubarak have been gathering.
And the war drums continue here.
STOUT: This time yesterday you were describing the million man march, and you described it as turning into a sit-in by the anti-Mubarak demonstrators. Are we seeing now, is this a turf war between the pro- Mubarak demonstrators who moved in trying to kick them out. Is that what's happening?
WATSON: The sit-in aspect of this -- you know, the camp fires, the tents, people playing guitar and singing, that has clearly -- well, there are some tents left here. But now the scene has been dominated by the battle over turf, by the battle of this symbolic piece of territory Tahrir Square which sadly means liberation or freedom and has now become really a battleground.
You can see the people pounding on the aluminum walls, the aluminum siding here. And about 300 yards away, the stone throwing continues. But as the opponents are facing off, continue to face off against each other. Perhaps this is a show of support for the young men who are on the front line engaging in these battles and coming back with head wounds again and again and again.
STOUT: Ivan, you've been watching the clashes unfold for over an hour now. Is your sense that --
WATSON: -- that things could have turned so violent yesterday, that things could have turned so violent. Here comes another injured man being brought out.
Yesterday, there was an awful lot of hatred being spewed at the regime of Hosni Mubarak, but it -- a lot of joy and happiness as well at the freedom of being able to express one's mind. And today things changed dramatically when the pro-regime supporters came out. We were chased down the streets by pro-regime supporters, demonstrators who clutched at our cameraman. And that's when the scuffles broke out. And we really barely squeezed in through the doors of our hotel as rocks were being hurled over us. And women were trapped in the midst of that first eruption of fighting that took place.
STOUT: Ivan, we're looking at some of the demonstrators holding a massive flag. Can you read what is on the flag?
WATSON: They're standing on top of tanks to get to higher ground to hurl their stones at the opposition there right next to the orange bricks of Egypt's landmark Egyptian museum.
There are no signs right now that this could abate. And perhaps what is saddest right now, Kristie, is after the first eruption of violence here that went on for 20 minutes, 30 minutes we saw a moment of peace between the two sides. We saw the two sides come together and stand side by side peacefully and then that charge, like a scene out of Ben-Hur, of men on horseback and camels that charged from the pro-regime side directly into the opposition (INAUDIBLE) any brotherhood that was felt between two camps that were waving the same symbol of Egypt, the Egyptian flag, this appeared and turned once again into this vicious fighting.
STOUT: Ivan Watson. Now we're going to break away from you, Ivan, but do stay with us. We're going to go back to our Ben Wedeman who is at the hospital near the square for more on the wounded, on the injured as a result of these clashes. Ben, what are you seeing?
WEDEMAN: Where we've now stepped away from that clinic which was really just full of people who have been laid out on the ground because the clinic itself, which is actually a mosque, was already full with people who have been wounded in these clashes. We saw every minute or two more people being brought in. It's not clear -- some of them appear to be pro-Mubarak demonstrators who are also being treated there. And one interesting point, they brought out somebody who has been hit by a rock and he was hand-cuffed and taken away by the police. Many people among the anti-government demonstrators say that there were basically released prisoners among the crowd of pro-Mubarak demonstrators who were basically used as shock troops in this clash.
Now another interesting thing was I overheard an army officer who was right next to the clinic basically reporting a good deal of panic on his voice on the situation in the area saying that it was simply out of control and they had no way to bring order to Tahrir Square. What we saw that as these clashes that Ivan was describing were taking place, the army, the soldiers were just hiding inside their tanks doing nothing, not even firing warning shots in the air. Now it seems that there sort of a tense stand-off between pro and anti-government forces in the area of the Egyptian museum on the northern end of Tahrir Square.
Everybody here says they are staying. What we've seen is that the anti- government protesters are -- have linked arms to try to create sort of a cordoned (INAUDIBLE) around the square to stop the pro-government forces from entering -- Kristie.
STOUT: Ben, we've been looking at these very alarming, but contrasting scenes on this live feed from Tahrir Square: one, of a wounded man being led away, and just moments ago what we saw were some of the protesters using their hands to dig into the ground in Tahrir Square to pull up stones and bricks to presumably throw at rival protesters. Of course, at the hospital where you are, you're seeing the brunt of such violence.
WEDEMAN: Yes, yes. And as I said, they're coming just every minute or two. The doctors who are all volunteers -- as I said, this is not a hospital this is a mosque that's been set up as a field hospital. And they're, you know, trying to administer to the wounded among those who were hurt in the clashes was a Spanish still photographer as well. So, as you know the police are also -- I mean, excuse me the press is also being targeted by some of the pro-government demonstrators as Ivan so told so well.
STOUT: All right. Ben Wedeman joining us from near Tahrir Square there in Cairo. Thank you, Ben.
Let's go back to our Nic Robertson who joins us elsewhere in Egypt in Alexandria for a bigger picture explanation of what's happening here. And Nic, what led to this?
ROBERTSON: Well, Kristie, from what we saw developing last night, we're talking now about 12 hours or so ago, a little more perhaps when President Mubarak gave his address and speech to the nation saying that he wouldn't run for office, but he was talking to some -- or his government was talking to opposition groups that he wouldn't run for office, but there would be elections later in the year, that there would be perhaps changes to the constitution that would limit the term of office of the president.
After that speech, here in Alexandria, the situation became very, very tense when a group of pro-Mubarak supporters overnight clashed at Martyr Square here in Alexandria with a group of anti-Mubarak demonstrators who had been camped out in Martyr Square. During that clash, 12 people were injured according to a doctor who treated some of the casualties. The army came in firing shots in the air to separate the two sides, but that was a first hint here that there was perhaps going to be some reaction following President Mubarak's speech. And as we've seen developing through the day today, the day after that speech, in Cairo groups of pro-Mubarak supporters coming out onto the streets, we've seen them here in Alexandria as well.
What they've been doing here in Alexandria is handing out flyers like this one that have been showing how there are two different opinions. One side of the paper is the anti-Mubarak, one side is the pro-Mubarak. They've been showing and highlighting two different opinions.
And I don't know if you can see over my shoulder -- I can see that it's gone now over my shoulder, but that's the cornish (ph) along the seafront, the Mediterranean seafront here in Alexandria, just shortly a few minutes ago a small pro-Mubarak demonstration marched down there. Here in Alexandria we haven't seen any clashes, but in Cairo however, those pro- Mubarak rallies in Tahrir Square have clashed angrily and violently in that central Tahrir Square with anti-Mubarak supporters. That's not what we're seeing here so far, but I believe we're able to speak with Hasa -- Mostafa Hassan, a protester, an anti-Mubarak protester who has just been on Tahrir Square. Mostafa, if you can hear me, can you describe the scenes that you've seen unfolding where you've been?
MOSTAFA HASSAN, ANTI-MUBARAK PROTESTER: Well, yes, I can hear you.
What's happened -- what started as a very peaceful demonstration from people in Tahrir Square actually became quite (INAUDIBLE) Mubarak is from pro-rallies, but they are extending (ph) these rallies to clash with the people of Tahrir Square which did happen actually around noon.