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CAIRO — Violent protest spread across Cairo and other Egyptian cities on Friday as thousands of demonstrators intensified their campaign to oust President Hosni Mubarak, pouring from mosques after noon prayers and clashing with police who fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.
The protests came after days and weeks of turmoil across the Arab world that has toppled one leader in Tunisia and encouraged protesters to overcome deep-rooted fears of their autocratic leaders and take to the streets. But Egypt is a special case — a heavyweight in Middle East diplomacy, in part because of its peace treaty with Israel, and a key ally of the United States.
In what protesters called a “day of wrath,” a crowd of at least 10,000 people moved east from Cairo’s Mohandeseen neighborhood, trying to reach the central Tahrir Square that has been an epicenter of protest. The demonstrations were on a scale far beyond anything in the memory of most residents.
Near Tahrir square, protesters set fire to a police truck as police lobbed tear gas to try to block access to a key bridge across the River Nile from the island of Zamalek. Some demonstrators stamped on photographs of the president and others chanted “Down, down with Mubarak.” The acrid stench of tear-gas spread across the capital reaching up the windows of high-rise buildings.
At Al Azhar in old Cairo, thousands of people poured from one of the most iconic mosques of Sunni Islam, chanting “The people want to bring down the regime.” Police fired tear gas and protesters hurled rocks as they sought to break though police lines. From balconies above the street, residents threw water and lemon to protesters whose eyes were streaming with tear gas.
Similar demonstrations were also reported in the cities of Suez, Alexandria and several others, including Al Arish in northern Sinai and Mansour in the Nile Delta region.