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Tear gas returns to Cairo's Tahrir Square

By Ivan Watson, CNN
updated 11:19 AM EST, Wed November 23, 2011
  • At least 29 people had been killed in the three days of violence, officials say
  • Protesters equipped with surgical masks, facemasks against tear gas
  • Motorcycles ferry wounded protesters from streets to makeshift first aid clinics
  • One tear gas canister's markings identify it as being made in USA

Cairo (CNN) -- Dawn broke over central Cairo Tuesday, revealing thousands of demonstrators sleeping on the lawns, sidewalks and streets of Tahrir Square.

Throughout the previous night, running street battles raged in the streets and back alleys just a few hundred yards away. The steady stream of ambulances leaving Tahrir were a tragic sign of just how violent Egypt's latest round of political unrest has been.

Most of the demonstrators were young Egyptian men; many were teenagers.

Mahmour Radwan, a 22-year old engineering student, traveled down to Cairo from Alexandria, Egypt's second city Tuesday with two of his friends, just to join the protests.

"Sorry sir, we didn't start this mess. They started it, when they killed 35 person and they put them in the street," Radwan said, pointing in the direction of the riot police who were firing tear gas from a position not 400 yards away. "They started it, not us."

Violence escalating in Tahrir Square
More deadly clashes in Egypt
Egyptian protesters press their case

According to the Ministry of Health's latest statistics, at least 29 people had been killed in the three days of violence as of Monday night.

Like Radwan, many of the protesters were equipped with surgical masks and other rudimentary facemasks in a vain attempt to protect themselves from the clouds of tear gas that constantly billow out from side streets, where demonstrators continued their furious battles with riot police Tuesday.

Motorcycles ferried wounded protesters from these streets to makeshift first aid clinics in the square. Medics and volunteers treated the young men as they coughed and puked on the pavement. Large piles of first aid equipment, most of it apparently donated, had already been amassed to support the protest movement.

Despite the protesters' occupation of Tahrir, workers still streamed into Mugama Tahrir, the huge government building overlooking the square, Tuesday morning.

Not all of them supported the resurgent protest movement.

Municipal worker Moatez Farid blamed both Egypt's ruling military council and the angry protesters for the latest spasm of violence.

"These people are angry about the system," he said, pointing at the dozens of young men sleeping on blankets in front of the massive municipal building. He accused the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- which has ruled Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was forced from office nine months ago -- of making the same mistakes as the former ruler.

"You know, Mubarak did too late, too little," Farid said, inverting the common English expression. "The same with the military...too late, too little."

On the frontlines of the street battle, protesters took turns hurling stones at helmeted riot police who stood barely 100 yards away. Every few minutes, the police fired canisters of tear gas back at the demonstrators. On a rubble-strewn side street, army soldiers uncoiled barbed wire. Several protesters controlled the crowd and directed it away from clashing with the soldiers, instead focusing on the police.

Young women stood nearby, holding bottles of water and solution to help treat those overcome by the effects of the gas.

As journalists walked through the melee, demonstrators ran up wielding spent shotgun shells and tear gas canisters.

One of the tear gas canisters had markings clearly identifying it as having been manufactured in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. "Made in USA, made in USA," several of the young men yelled.

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