Anti-government protests that have shaken Egypt must end before talks with the opposition can start, Vice President Omar Suleiman said Wednesday, calling on protesters to respect a curfew and go home.
Suleiman, the veteran intelligence chief appointed to the office of vice president last week, urged demonstrators to respect an earlier call from the Egyptian army and return to their homes, state media said.
"Dialogue with the political (opposition) forces... requires that the demonstrations end and the Egyptian street returns to normal," he said.
Crowds were building in Cairo's Tahrir square on Wednesday for a ninth day of protests to try to force Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from office with one clear message: "We will not go, he will go", as thousands of Mubarak supporters were marching nationwide after he made a defiant speech promising to serve out the last months of his term and "die on Egyptian soil."
Supporters of Mubarak, throwing petrol bombs, wielding sticks and charging on horses and camels, assaulted demonstrators in Cairo on Wednesday after the army told the protesters to go home.
Anti-Mubarak protesters hurled stones back and said the attackers were police in plainclothes. The Interior Ministry denied the accusation, and the Egyptian government rejected international calls for Mubarak to end his 30-year-rule now.
The clashes occurred just hours after the army urged people to go home and allow a return to normality after nearly nine days of protesting.
At least six riders were dragged from their beasts, beaten with sticks and taken away with blood streaming down their faces.
Elsewhere, an angry crowd of anti-Mubarak protesters beat at least 10 pro-regime demonstrators with sticks, a second correspondent added.
Clashes intensified hours later as pro Mubarak supporters started throwing molotiv cocktail against anti Mubarak demonstrators.
Alarabiya reported that pro Mubarak supporters have gave some 'hooligans' sum of money ranging from $33 to $83 to throw the chemical bombs at the protesters, which caused Tahrir square to burn in fire.
From Alarabiya's live broadcast 'hooligans' also threw molotov inside Cairo's museum.
The number of people wounded in violence in Cairo increased to 611 from 403, the health minister said.
The ministry's first death toll counted only one conscript, but at 11:38 pm Egypt's time, death toll rose to include three people killed. According to media reports few of the protesters dropped dead in Tahrir square.
Egyptian troops fired warning shots at the main rally against Mubararak in central Cairo on Wednesday in a bid to end clashes with regime supporters and the protesters reacted jubilantly, an AFP correspondent reported.
"The army and the people hand in hand," the crowd shouted after dozens were injured in running battles between pro and anti-Mubarak demonstrators on Cairo's central Tahrir Square.
The army has positioned its tanks and troops around the square but this is thought to be the first time they have opened fire since they were deployed on Friday and police vanished from the capital's streets.
But Egypt's interior ministry denied that the army firing any shots.
At first fighting took place around army tanks deployed in the square, with stones bouncing off the armour, an AFP reporter said, adding that at least 10 people were injured in the first fighting.
Soldiers took cover from the projectiles, and the windows of at least one army truck were broken. Some troops stood on tanks and appealed for calm but did not otherwise intervene.
The army separated about 20 Mubarak supporters from about 1,000 pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square, but the Mediterranean city of Alexandria saw clashes erupted between several hundred protesters and government supporters early Wednesday, TV reports said.
At least 1,500 people were early Wednesday in the central square, which has become a focal point for the protests and drew hundreds of thousands on Tuesday. Many had camped in tents and under blankets, determined to stay until Mubarak goes. But the number of people later multiplied as the clashes escalated.
At around 9:15 pm pro Mubarak supporters controlled Tahrir square.
According to Alarabiya TV at around 10:30 pm clashes in Abd al-Muni'm Riyadh square started and Molotov cocktail was also thrown.
Egypt rejects intl calls
Egypt on Wednesday rejected calls from the international community for an immediate transition of power, amid deadly protests against President Hosni Mubarak's regime.
"What foreign parties are saying about 'a period of transition beginning immediately' in Egypt is rejected," foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement, charging that such calls "sought to inflame the internal situation in Egypt".
United States President Barack Obama and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton have called for an immediate transition of power in Egypt, where at least 300 people are reported to have died during nine days of protest.
Directing his comments at young demonstrators calling for democracy, Obama said: "We hear your voices."
A spokesman of the Egyptian army, meanwhile, appealed to protesters to go back to their homes. In a statement aired by the state TV, he urged them to resume their normal lives for the sake of security and stability of their country.
"The army forces are calling on you ... You began by going out to express your demands and you are the ones capable of restoring normal life," the spokesman said, adding that the message and demands had been heard.
The army has previously issued statements saying it would not use violence against protesters and saying it understood the "legitimate demands" of the people.
The speaker of Egypt's parliament said he wanted President Mubarak's promised constitutional reforms to be completed in less than two-and-half months, state television reported.
Mubarak said on Tuesday night he would work to change clauses in the constitution that at present make it almost impossible for any realistic presidential challenge to the candidate nominated by his ruling party.
The Internet services, meanwhile, were back to life in Egypt as the curfew times were shortened starting from Wednesday to run 5 pm (1500 GMT) to 7 am (0500 GMT), instead 3 pm to 8 am.
The army delivered the warning as international pressure grew on Mubarak to quit after his closest ally, the United States, told him bluntly that the political change demanded by Egyptians must begin immediately.
In addition to the army, al-Azhar called the protesters to go home for the situation to calm down.
An Egyptian opposition coalition called on Wednesday for more protests and said it would only enter into a dialogue with Vice President Omar Suleiman if Mubarak stepped down.
But one of the main opposition liberal parties al-Wafd said that a dialouge is the best alternative than going back to a military rule, and added that the pro Mubarak protesters have the right to demonstrate but not in Tahrir square. Also, head of al-Wafd said that he briefed the Muslim Brotherhood on what has been done communication wise by his party before Mubarak's speech. The al-Wafd official said that Mubarak's speech has made him gain some 'sentimental support' from some Egyptians.
Mubarak's declaration he will step down later this year after decades of autocratic rule failed to appease protesters who want him to quit immediately, and prompted a call from President Barack Obama for the transition to begin now.
Mubarak said he'll stay on to ensure stability and push through political and economic changes before leaving.
"I lived in this country, and I fought for it, and I defended its land, its sovereignty and interests, and I will die on its soil," Mubarak said.
No assembly meetings
Head of the Egyptian parliament Dr. Ahmed Fathi Sorour said on Wednesday that the constitution reform referred to by President Hosni Mubarak in his speech on Tuesday will be done within two and a half months.
Dr. Sorour said that the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council meetings will be suspended until an accord is reached with other political parties who claimed that Egypt’s latest parliamentary election on October 2010 was rigged.
He also called on the parliament to amend the Egyptian Constitution’s Article 76 (which narrows the pool of potential presidential candidates) and Article 77 (which allows for unlimited presidential terms).
According to article 77 in 1971 a president was allowed only to run twice and each of his term should constitute six years. But the article was amended during the reign of Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 to make it possible for the president to run more than one time.
Thus, Mubarak yielded on two key protester demands.
However he made no mention of the country’s controversial emergency law, which gives police wide powers of arrest, suspends constitutional rights and curbs non-governmental political activity and has been in place since Islamists assassinated Sadat in 1981.
Egypt's government had pledged last year to restrict its use once new legislation on terror offences and drug trafficking was adopted.
Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) won the last elections with around 98 percent of the votes, leaving no chance for other political parties to gain three percent to step a foot for nomination.
However opponents have repeated said that the vote was widely rigged.
Officials said Egypt's bourse and banks will open on Sunday after days of their closures.
Many shops remained closed in downtown, but some customers said on Tuesday that several ATMs they tried were working and giving out cash as normal.
Egypt's Finance Minister Samir Radwan said he wanted to avoid economic collapse and all shades of political opinion should be involved in talks for a transition to democratic rule.
"I am concerned with the economy of this country and to try to keep it from collapse," Radwan said in an interview with BBC Radio on Wednesday.
"We are using every possible facility here in the country to help that peaceful transition. We are trying to make sure people get their salaries, pensions, foodstuffs in the market," he said.
"All shades of political opinion are being consulted. The sooner were engaged in a constructive dialogue, the better," added Radwan.
Many Egyptians live hand to month and have felt the strain as protests demanding Mubarak step down have spread across the country, disrupting services ranging from food supplies to cash machines.
Although SMS messaging was still patchy, mass circulation messages were landing. One which arrived on Wednesday said: "The armed forces are concerned with your security and wellbeing and will not resort to the use of force against these great people."
Egypt's dollar bonds advanced 0.2 percent yesterday before Mubarak's announcement, the first increase in six days. The political upheaval sent the debt tumbling 12 percent in January, the most since at least 2001, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. The cost of protecting against an Egypt default with credit- default swaps fell 70 basis points on Tuesday, the most ever, to 350, CMA prices show.
Oil traded close to $91 a barrel in New York after falling from a two-year high as concern eased that the protests in Egypt will disrupt supplies through the Suez Canal. Futures declined 1.5 percent on Tuesday after canal officials said traffic is moving normally at the waterway which carries more than 2.2 million barrels of oil a day.
International pressure grew on Mubarak to quit after his closest ally, the United States, told him bluntly that the political change demanded by Egyptians must begin immediately.
Pressure also came from Turkey, an important diplomatic voice in the Muslim world. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Mubarak's plan step down did not meet the people's expectations and the change should begin sooner rather than later.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy also called for a rapid transition "without delay".
International backing for Mubarak, for three decades a stalwart of the West's Middle East policy and styled as a bulwark against the spread of militant Islam, has crumbled as he tried to brazen out the crisis.
Israel, which signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, is also watching the situation in its western neighbour nervously, weighing the possibilty that anti-Israeli Islamists might gain a share of power.
Some of the few words of encouragement for him have come from oil-giant Saudi Arabia.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday that the process of political transition in Egypt needs to start now.
"We think the process needs to be an orderly transition. The process needs to begin now," the spokesman told reporters.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle gave a cautious welcome on Wednesday to what he said was an opening of the way to a "new political beginning" by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
"It is good President Mubarak has opened the way for a new political beginning. We will have to see what role he himself plays," Westerwelle said in an interview on German radio.