Cairo, Egypt, Feb 3 (KATAKAMI.COM / CNN) — Egypt’s new prime minister apologized repeatedly Thursday for the previous day’s “catastrophe” in Cairo, blaming infiltrators and a “complete disappearance” of police for the human toll.
Interior Minister Habib Adli, whose office oversees Egypt’s police forces, was among several former officials of President Hosni Mubarak’s government whose assets were frozen, state-run television said. The officials have been banned from traveling outside the country.
The travel ban will remain in effect “until national security is restored and the authorities and monitoring bodies have undergone their investigations,” Nile TV said.
Ahmed Shafiq, appointed prime minister last Saturday, pledged a thorough investigation into Wednesday’s violence in Tahrir Square, the downtown Cairo plaza where the uprising has unfolded with force.
“This group got in and some clashes happened,” he said, adding that he would look into whether the violence was part of an organized attempt to disband the opposition.
Even as he spoke, foes and supporters of Mubarak’s government continued clashing in Tahrir Square. Pro-Mubarak crowds were smaller Thursday but tension still ran high as people hurled rocks and flashbangs at each other.
The two sides faced off all through the night and earlier Thursday, heavy gunfire reverberated in central Cairo. The military maneuvered to separate the two sides but in the afternoon, in parts of the square, the soldiers were nowhere to be seen.
Scores of bandaged demonstrators remained in the square. At least five people were killed and 836 injured, including 200 within one hour Thursday morning, Egypt’s health minister said on Nile TV.
In Washington, President Barack Obama addressed the Egyptian crisis, now in its 10th day, at the National Prayer Breakfast.
“We pray that the violence in Egypt will end, and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized, and that a better day will dawn over Egypt and throughout the world,” he said.
Obama’s comments came after the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain issued a statement urging a “rapid and peaceful transition” and European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called on Mubarak to act “as quickly as possible” on that transition.
Mubarak announced last week that he would not run again in September elections. His newly appointed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman said Mubarak’s son, Gamal — who was being groomed as his successor — will also not seek the post.
But many of the protesters are demanding an immediate end to Mubarak’s rule.
Shafiq appealed to his compatriots, especially Egypt’s youth, to show patience as the government’s leadership goes through the transitional period.
“It has great meaning not to hurt each other, hurt our reputation,” he said. “Do they want what happened in Tunisia to happen here?” Shafiq said, referring to the revolt in Tunisia that ousted the nation’s longtime strongman and served as inspiration for other nations in the region that have seen similar demonstrations.
Shafiq said he and newly-appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman were to meet with the opposition — including protesters in Tahrir Square. He said no one would be excluded from the national dialog, including the Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed Islamist umbrella group.
But spokesman Essam El-Erian, said the Muslim Brotherhood will not participate in talks with the regime.
“We refuse to sit with him,” El-Erian said Thursday, referring to Suleiman.
Other key opposition groups have also rejected meeting invitations, including the secular liberal Wafd Party and the Al-Ghad party, led by former presidential candidate Ayman Nour.
Journalists covering the crisis have also become targets — beaten, bloodied, harassed and detained by men, most all in some way aligned with Mubarak. Numerous news outlets — including the BBC, ABC News and CNN — reported members of their staffs had been attacked, most on the streets of Cairo.
In several cases, news personnel were accused of being “foreign spies,” seized, whisked away, and often assaulted. A spokesman for the United States blasted forces in Egypt who have harassed, detained and beaten journalists.
“There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday on Twitter. “We condemn such actions.”
Early Thursday, sustained fire from automatic weapons, including from what sounded like a heavy machine gun, echoed around the square.
Anti-government demonstrators hunkered down behind makeshift barricades and small fires burned in the square, with some spreading to trees and walls. Chunks of concrete and Molotov cocktails flew as the crisis escalated.
In the nation’s second-largest city of Alexandria, however, some signs of normalcy could be seen Thursday as trams returned to the streets for the first time in days.
A group of fishermen said they wanted life to get back to normal and one Mubarak supporter said the protests in Cairo were humiliating.
Mubarak loyalists, who had been largely silent since the unrest began, came out in full force Wednesday — in one case wielding whips and thundering through the crowd on horses and camels.
“What you are seeing is the demonstration of the real Egyptian people who are trying to take back their country, trying to take back their street,” said businessman Khaled Ahmed, who described himself as “pro-Egyptian.”
But some observers said the pro-Mubarak push Wednesday was likely orchestrated by a regime bent on breaking up peaceful demonstrations.
“These are tactics that are well-known in Egypt,” Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNN’s John King.
It was unclear whether confrontations were being repeated elsewhere. Other Cairo neighborhoods were calm, and rallies in Egypt’s second-largest city, Alexandria, were largely peaceful.
Cairo resident Waleed Tawfik noted that Tahrir Square is the size of a football stadium, and the events there are not representative of peaceful protests elsewhere.
“There are 29 governors in Egypt,” Tawfik said. “I don’t understand why the whole international media is focused on a geographic area around about a half-kilometer by a half-kilometer.”
He professed neutrality on Mubarak, but said the man who has ruled Egypt for three decades should be allowed to finish his term.
“I’d be worried if the president packed up and left at the request of 60,000 people,” Tawfik said. “Eighty-four million is a larger voice … (to) reconstruct the government and reshuffle ministers won’t happen over day and night.”