Egypt protests - Reuters - Feb 1, 2011
Protesters shout anti-Mubarak slogans during an anti-government protest in Tahrir square in Cairo February 1, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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The United States Secretary of State urged Egypt to investigate the attacks on Cairo protesters that left three dead on Wednesday and over 600 injured, the U.S. State Department spokesman said on Wednesday.

Hundreds were wounded and three people were killed on Wednesday when several thousand supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak attacked anti-government protesters in Cairo by raining stones, bottles and firebombs on each other in scenes of uncontrolled violence as soldiers stood by without intervening.

Government backers galloped in on horses and camels, only to be dragged to the ground and beaten bloody. The attacks happened only hours after Mubarak gave a speech rejecting demands that he end his nearly 30-year reign on the country immediately.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Egypt's new Vice President Omar Suleiman about Wednesday's attacks, encouraging him to "hold those responsible fully accountable for this violence."

"We don't know who unleashed these thugs on the streets of Cairo. They've been identified as supporters of the government," Crowley said. "But whoever they are, there needs to be accountability."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said earlier that "If any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately." He declined to speculate whether the Egyptian government was in fact behind the violence although protesters content that plainclothes police were among the pro-Mubarak groups.

In a more pointed comment about the attacks on the anti-government protesters, a senior U.S. official said it was clear that "somebody loyal to Mubarak has unleashed these guys to try to intimidate the protesters".

British Prime Minister David Cameron also expressed fear that the violence which broke out in Egypt's capital may have been stirred by Mubarak loyalists.

"If it turns out that the regime in any way has been sponsoring or tolerating this violence, that would be completely and utterly unacceptable," Cameron said. "These are despicable scenes we are seeing and they should not be repeated."

The chaos in Cairo, in which Mubarak supporters and anti-government protesters pelted each other with stones and some foreign journalists were attacked, was another incident of significant violence after more than a week of anti-government demonstrations. Clashes with police during those demonstrations left a reported 100 people dead and over 1000 injured.

The clashes in Cairo's central square were still continuing into the early hours of Thursday morning. An eyewitness said Mubarak supporters were throwing Molotov cocktails off the rooftops of the buildings surrounding the Tahrir Square, towards the anti-government demonstrators below.

Protesters pleaded for protection from soldiers stationed at the square, who refused. Soldiers did nothing to stop the violence beyond firing an occasional shot in the air and no uniformed police were in sight. Some protesters wept and prayed in the square where only a day before they had held a joyous, peaceful rally of a quarter-million, the largest yet in more than a week of demonstrations demanding Mubarak leave power.

A military spokesman appeared on state TV Wednesday and asked the protesters to disperse so life in Egypt could get back to normal. The announcement 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-million peacefully packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square.

Nearly 10,000 protesters massed again in Tahrir on Wednesday morning, rejecting Mubarak's speech as too little too late and renewing their demands he leave immediately.

Wednesday's clashes began in the early afternoon when Mubarak supporters broke through a human chain of anti-government protesters trying to defend thousands gathered in Tahrir, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

From there it escalated into outright street battles. The two sides tore up stones from the street and from a nearby construction site and began hurling stones, chunks of concrete and sticks at each, chasing each other as the protesters' human chains moved back to try to shield the larger mass of demonstrators at the plaza's center.

According to the latest reports, the clashes have continued into Thursday's early hours.

The anti-government movement is fueled by deep frustration with an autocratic regime blamed for ignoring the needs of the poor and allowing corruption and official abuse to run rampant.