CAIRO — Egyptian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and beat protesters to clear thousands of people from a central Cairo square today after the biggest demonstrations in years against President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule.
Two protesters and a police officer were killed Tuesday in the nationwide demonstrations, which also demanded a solution to Egypt's grinding poverty and were likely to fuel growing dissent in a presidential election year.
Inspired by Tunisia's uprising and mobilized largely on the Internet, the waves of protesters filled Cairo's central Tahrir — or Liberation — Square on Tuesday, some hurling rocks and climbing atop armored police trucks.
"Down with Hosni Mubarak, down with the tyrant," chanted the crowds. "We don't want you!" they screamed as thousands of riot police deployed in a massive security operation that failed to quell the protests.
As night fell, thousands of demonstrators stood their ground for what they vowed would be an all-night sit-in in Tahrir Square just steps away from Parliament and other government buildings.
A large security force moved in around 1 a.m. today, arresting people, chasing others into side streets and filling the square with clouds of tear gas. Protesters collapsed on the ground with breathing problems.
"It got broken up ugly with everything, shooting, water cannon and (police) running with the sticks," said Gigi Ibrahim, who was among the last protesters to leave the square. "It was a field of tear gas. The square emptied out so fast."
Discontent with life in Egypt's authoritarian police state has simmered under the surface for years. However, it is Tunisia's popular uprising, which forced out that nation's autocratic ruler, that appears to have pushed young Egyptians into the streets to challenge Mubarak, 82, who has ruled for nearly 30 years.
Dubbed a "day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment," Tuesday's protests in cities across Egypt began peacefully, with police at first showing unusual restraint. But as crowds filled Tahrir Square — waving Egyptian and Tunisian flags and adopting the same protest chants that rang out in the streets of Tunis — security personnel changed tactics and the protest turned violent.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Egypt's government, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, was stable and Egyptians have the right to protest, though she urged all parties to avoid violence.
Killed on Tuesday were a police officer who was hit in the head with a rock in Cairo, and two protesters who died in the city of Suez, east of Cairo, an Interior Ministry official said.