Anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo fight to hold square littered with bricks and burnt-out vehicles after night of bloodshed
They were barely visible at first, a glimmer of tan clothing among the ranks of pro-Mubarak fighters lined on a low overpass above the entrance to Tahrir Square. It was from here that rocks, petrol bombs and bullets had been raining down on the anti-regime opposition defending their barricades below.
At 9am first one, then a second, and then dozens of Egyptian soldiers – the same military forces who had stood back and watched as last night's bloodshed unfolded – finally appeared at this key strategic flashpoint and began driving back those on the bridge. Before them lay a no-man's land littered with broken bricks and burnt-out vehicles that spoke of the extraordinary violence that had played out in the darkness.
It was the beginning of a day of to-and-fro street clashes in the densely populated neighbourhoods surrounding the square, as anti-Mubarak protesters fought close-quarter battles to hold Tahrir and, in a hail of warning shots and automatic gunfire, the army sporadically attempted to establish buffer zones.
A night of fighting that left more than 1,000 injured and several dead from gunshot wounds. Despite the denials of Egypt's government and interior ministry, both of which claimed these events were not state-orchestrated, the evidence strongly suggested otherwise.
Anti-Mubarak protesters dragged a supporter of the regime through their barricades just after 8am. In his pocket was an identity card showing him to be Ahmed Mahmoud Abdel Razik, a member of the police.
His was not the only identity card taken. Others were on display, taken as their owners were led away for interrogation in the buildings on the back streets before being handed over to the army. Despite the tensions in the crowd most captured fighters were protected from retribution by responsible protesters.
"These people tried to slaughter us last night – five of my fellow revolutionaries were killed by sniper fire at this location, and I saw one man collapse right in front of me at 4am with his brains falling out on to the road," said Mahmoud Mustafa, a 25-year-old anti-Mubarak demonstrator. "But look around you – we remain peaceful, we remain united and we remain determined to bring down this regime. I was never involved in politics before, but now I will stay here until Mubarak leaves or I die, whatever comes first."
The north side of the square was a scene of devastation – both physical and human. At the makeshift aid stations, which have been manned by 70 volunteer doctors in the open air, casualties were still coming in.
A man with a broken back was carried through the crowd on a piece of corrugated metal. Others came through with head injuries, broken arms and cuts.
One of those treating the injured was Dr Ibrahim Fakhr, a surgical professor. "We had shooting at 11pm last night and then again at around four in the morning from a sniper on the roof of the Egyptian Museum. We saw the laser light coming from the weapon. The latest that we have is that seven have been killed by gunfire."
Like the doctors, those trying to defend the square have been forced to improvise. Crude helmets were constructed out of cardboard boxes; others strapped water bottles to their heads. They built makeshift shields and used plastic crates to catch the incoming stones at their barricades.
"I'm an agricultural teacher by trade and I've never built weapons before, but I am good with my hands," explained Said el-Zoughly, who was directing a group of protesters as they broke down a burnt-out vehicle to salvage defence materials and put together catapults and slingshots. "We're not just running around wildly, we're trying to be organised and efficient. Anyone who wants a shield can get one. We'll stay for however long it takes – God is with us."
At the mouth of the square, buildings once held by the pro-Mubarak demonstrators had changed hands by morning. On the roof of one, a group of young men, equipped with stones and firebombs, were briefed by their leader, while others hauled sacks of rocks up the derelict stairs.
"Today's still early, but they're scared of us," he told those around him. "Don't get burnt out. If you are tired get into the building. If you want to sleep stay away from the edges of the roof and its corners.
"Then when they come into no-man's land we can surprise them."
As more people arrived at the square bearing food and supplies for those inside, the clashes – smaller in intensity than those the night before – broke out again. The lines of soldiers between were hit by missiles, and tanks moved in.
Mohamed Saleh, a 25-year-old senior accountant, surveyed the scene. "You must tell the world about this terrorism, government terrorism," he said. "We've been sitting here for eight days with no trouble, no fires, no violence – just a peaceful desire for revolution. Now civilians are being indiscriminately massacred by thugs. If the west cares so much about terrorism then why doesn't it act?
"Mubarak says he wants eight more months in power to manage a peaceful transition. Just see what the first day of that peaceful transition looks like, then you'll understand why we can't stop protesting until he leaves immediately. He is a thug and a criminal and he wants to kill us. Can you imagine what would happen to us tonight if we stood down and stopped defending ourselves? We would be slaughtered. We're fighting now for our lives."
On Twitter and by other means, anti-Mubarak protesters sent out appeals for medical supplies, blood donations and blankets, and exchanged information on which entrances and exits to the square were safe. On the fringes of Tahrir many people were assaulted and harassed by pro-Mubarak thugs, including dozens of local and international journalists who have been portrayed by state television as sympathisers of the revolution and accused of spreading misinformation and circulating drugs.
Elsewhere reports filtered in of other institutions perceived to be anti-Mubarak coming under attack, including the Hisham Mubarak law centre, which has previously provided legal services for arrested democracy activists, and the El Nadeem Centre for Rehabiliation of Victims of Violence, which has campaigned against police torture.