AP/The Huffington Post First Posted: 02/ 3/11 06:21 AM
Updated: 02/ 3/11 12:23 PM
CAIRO – Egyptian army tanks and soldiers cleared away pro-government rioters and deployed between them and protesters seeking the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, as the prime minister made an unprecedented apology Thursday for the assault by regime backers that turned central Cairo into a battle zone.
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told state TV that the attack Wednesday on the anti-government protesters was a “blatant mistake” and promised to investigate who was behind it.
But about the same time Shafiq was issuing an apology, another government official was denying a direct link to the violence by Mubarak supporters. As relayed by the BBC:
A cabinet spokesman Magdy Rady has insisted to Reuters that the government had no role in mobilising pro-Mubarak groups. “To accuse the government of mobilising this is a real fiction. That would defeat our object of restoring the calm.”
Also in Egypt, foreign journalists were beaten with sticks and fists by pro-government mobs on the streets Cairo on Thursday and dozens were reported detained by security forces in what the U.S. called a concerted attempt to intimidate the press.
The protesters accuse the regime of organizing the assault, using paid thugs and policemen in civilian clothes, in an attempt to crush their movement. Government supporters charged central Tahrir Square Wednesday afternoon, sparking 15 hours of uncontrolled chaos, with the two sides battled with rocks, sticks, bottles and firebombs as soliders largely stood by without intervening.
The military began to move with muscle for the first time to stop the fighting early Thursday after a barrage of automatic gunfire hit the anti-government camp before dawn, killing at least three protesters in a serious escalation.