The PJ Tatler

Jerusalem Post: Machine gun fire in Tahrir Square

CNN’s Anderson Cooper was also reporting “automatic gunfire” in the square near the museum.

Machine gunfire was heard on Wednesday night, shortly after Egyptian state television ordered all demonstrators to evacuate Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

Al Jazeera reported that anti-government protesters remained in the square, chanting “Leave! Leave!” at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as ambulances were stationed in the area. Frequent gunfire was heard in the vicinity of the Egyptian Museum.

Looks like the army is determined to restore order. Nicholas Kristof thinks that the tactics of the street bullies, including the camel and horse “Charge of the Rent-a-Thugs” is far too organized to be any kind of spontaneous response to the anti-Mubarak protestors:

In my area of Tahrir, the thugs were armed with machetes, straight razors, clubs and stones. And they all had the same chants, the same slogans and the same hostility to journalists. They clearly had been organized and briefed. So the idea that this is some spontaneous outpouring of pro-Mubarak supporters, both in Cairo and in Alexandria, who happen to end up clashing with other side — that is preposterous. It’s difficult to know what is happening, and I’m only one observer, but to me these seem to be organized thugs sent in to crack heads, chase out journalists, intimidate the pro-democracy forces and perhaps create a pretext for an even harsher crackdown.

We’ve seen this gambit before in Latin America where the dictator sends thugs to mix with the pro-government stooges at opposition demonstrations to strike terror in the hearts of the demonstrators. It has the advantage of keeping the army’s hands clean if anyone is killed, thus lessening international condemnation.

It is the tactic of a dictator who has run out of options and knows it.