Barely 12 hours after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he would step down at the end of his term, a club-wielding mob chanting his name overwhelmed pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square on Wednesday, hurling stones and gasoline bombs at the people who have demanded that Mubarak resign immediately after nearly 30 years in power.
The apparently choreographed onslaught - the pro-Mubarak forces had massed outside the square for hours and came equipped with slogans and knives - opened a violent new chapter in Egypt's nine-day-old uprising and defied President Barack Obama's call for a transition to a new government.
The running battles continued for hours in the shadow of the famed Egyptian Museum, home to the country's priceless antiquities, whose rooftop one Mubarak supporter briefly used to lob Molotov cocktails at demonstrators.
By midnight it appeared that the democracy movement had regained control of the downtown Cairo square it has occupied since Jan. 25. Demonstrators set two vehicles ablaze next to the museum and formed a human barricade to block the Mubarak supporters, many of whom retreated onto a nearby bridge, still carrying machetes and rocks.
A day earlier, Tahrir Square, whose name means "liberation," had been the site of the biggest pro-democracy demonstrations in memory here, with hundreds of thousands of people, many of them waving Egyptian flags, gathering for a festive day of songs and chants.