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Over the past week, thousands of Egyptians opposed to President Hosni Mubarak have led the way on demonstrations in Cairo, orchestrating huge crowds in a bid to get the U.S.-backed leader to step down after 30 years in power.

That situation changed on Wednesday, when protesters faced push-back from those claiming to support the beleaguered president. The two sides rained stones, bottles, firebombs and even satellite dishes (ripped off nearby buildings) on each other.

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Egypt's health minister said at least three people were killed and more thay 600 wounded in the violence. The timing of the violent clashes comes a day after Mubarak announced on state television Tuesday that he would try to return the country to normal and would not leave office until the end of his term in September.

Egypt “faces a choice between chaos and stability,” said Mubarak, who indicated he would  dispatch police to apprehend those responsible for arson and other illegal actions in the past week. “My first responsibility now is to restore the security and stability of the nation to achieve a peaceful transition.”

Video: Witness: Gangs roam Cairo with 'iron bars, knives' (on this page)

As the clashes between anti- and pro-Mubarak protesters spiraled into bloody violence on Wednesday, questions arose about just who was instigating the mayhem and whether the Mubarak government was going so far as to order and pay people to protest on its behalf.

Frederik Pleitgen of CNN reported on Wednesday that some men he had spoken to said that they were state oil company workers who had been ordered to join regime supporters on the streets.

The pro-Mubarak protesters at first said they had no intention of initiating a confrontation, according to a report Wednesday in the Guardian. Some of them told the British newspaper that they had been brought in by bus in from the countryside and some had swapped sides in recent days, saying Mubarak had given enough concessions and he should have time to usher through political change.

The New York Times reported that several people reported being offered the equivalent of less than $10 by ruling party operatives to demonstrate in the square for Mubarak.

The opposition movement, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood and ElBaradei, former head of the UN atomic agency, accuses Mubarak of running a corrupt and repressive government.

In Cairo, pro-regime protesters carried banners including "We love you, Mubarak." Some of them tried to storm the building of Al-Shorouk, where scores of journalists and workers remain trapped in the building, Bloomberg editor Wael Gamal said by telephone.

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"There is a risk of a low-level civil war," said Moustafa El-Husseini, author of "Egypt on the Brink of the Unknown," said by telephone from Cairo.

The army would probably intervene to prevent such a conflict, said Barak Seener, a research fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute of Defence and Security Studies.

"There is the potential for this to get out of hand but I think the military would step in before there was a civil war," said Seener. "I wouldn’t go so far as to say Mubarak engineered these clashes but they feed into his narrative that he is needed for stability."

The White House on Wednesday spoke against the violence.

"If any of the violence is instigated by the government it should stop immediately," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, while declining to speculate whether the government was in fact behind the violence. Protesters contend plainclothes police are among the pro-government attackers.

"The president found the images outrageous and deplorable," the press secretary said.

Story: Mubarak warns of chaos if he quits now

Meanwhile, CNN was reporting that several of its journalists heard from pro-Mubarak demonstrators that they worked for the government.

"These (pro-Mubarak) protests were organized by the government and the ruling National Democratic Party," analyst Kamal Zakher told CNN. The government mustered government workers and lawmakers whose seats are threatened, he said.

"They were ordered to go out today. They are well organized and that is suspicious -- especially the use of camels and horses. These are abnormal techniques to demonstrate," he said, referring to the shocking charge of about 50 or 60 mounted men through Tahrir in the middle of the afternoon.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

Video: Witness: Gangs roam Cairo with 'iron bars, knives'

Photos: Farewell Friday

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  1. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Feb. 11. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Egyptians set off fireworks as they celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after President Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the resignation of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the Grand Foyer at the White House in Washington D.C. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military on Friday. Egypt exploded with joy, tears, and relief after pro-democracy protesters brought down President Hosni Mubarak with a momentous march on his palaces and state TV. Mubarak, who until the end seemed unable to grasp the depth of resentment over his three decades of authoritarian rule, finally resigned Friday. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Protesters walk over a barricade after it was taken down to allow free entry to hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 11, 2011. A furious wave of protest finally swept Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from power, sending a warning to autocrats across the Arab world and beyond. (Yannis Behrakis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A spokesman for Egypt's higher military council reads a statement titled “Communiqué No. 3” in this video still on Friday. Egypt's higher military council said it would announce measures for a transitional phase after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. (Reuters Tv / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Egyptian celebrates in Cairo after the announcement of President Mubarak's resignation. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. A furious wave of protest finally swept Mubarak from power after 30 years of one-man rule, sparking jubilation in the streets. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An Egyptian reacts in the street after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, Feb. 11. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation on Friday. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Egyptian soldiers celebrate with anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday. Cairo's streets exploded in joy when Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptians celebrate the news of Mubarak's resignation in Tahrir Square on Friday. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian woman cries as she celebrates the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who handed control of the country to the military, Friday night, in Tahrir Square, Cairo. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate minutes after the announcement on television of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Opposition protesters celebrate Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, in Tahrir Square on Friday. President Mubarak bowed to pressure from the street and resigned, handing power to the army. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. On Egyptian state television, Al-Masriya, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivers an address announcing that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, in Cairo on Friday. (TV via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo
    Dylan Martinez / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (18) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Farewell Friday
  2. Image: Protester in Tahrir Square
    Emilio Morenatti / AP
    Slideshow (61) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 3
  3. Image: Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters
    Amr Nabil / AP
    Slideshow (93) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 2
  4. Image: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Khalil Hamra / AP
    Slideshow (83) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 1
  5. Image:
    Mayra Beltran / AP
    Slideshow (17) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - World reacts

Explainer: Key players in Egyptian protests

  • Image: A senior army officer salutes a crowd of cheering protesters at Tahrir square in Cairo
    YANNIS BEHRAKIS  /  Reuters
    A senior army officer salutes a crowd of cheering protesters at Tahrir square in Cairo.

    Protesters stormed Cairo streets in a bid to drive Hosni Mubarak from power, even as the longtime president set the stage for a successor by naming his intelligence chief as his first-ever vice president.

    The following are key players in the unfolding crisis.

    Sources: The Associated Press, Reuters

  • Ex-president

    Image: Mubarak
    Khaled Desouki  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

    Name: Hosni Mubarak

    Age: 82

    Role: Mubarak resigned as president and handed control to the military on Feb. 11, bowing down after a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands. The former air force commander had ruled Egypt for 30 years as leader of the National Democratic Party.

    Background: Mubarak was thrust into office when Islamists gunned down his predecessor Anwar Sadat at a military parade in 1981. He has long promoted peace abroad and on the domestic front he has kept a tight lid on political opposition. He has resisted any significant political change even under pressure from the United States. The U.S. has poured billions of dollars of military and other aid into Egypt since it became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, signing a treaty in 1979.

    Controversy: Mubarak won the first multicandidate presidential election in 2005 although the outcome was never in doubt and his main rival came in a distant second. Rights groups and observers said the election was marred by irregularities.

    Personal note: There have been questions about his health after surgery in Germany last March.

  • New VP

    Arno Burgi  /  EPA
    Omar Suleiman

    Name: Omar Suleiman
    Age: 74
    Role: The intelligence chief and Mubarak confidant became Egypt's first vice president in three decades on Jan. 29. The move clearly set up a succession that would hand power to Suleiman and keep control of Egypt in the hands of military men.
    Military man: He has been the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services since 1993, a part in which he has played a prominent public role in diplomacy, including in Egypt's relations with Israel and the United States. In 1992 he headed the General Operations Authority in the Armed Forces and then became the director of the military intelligence unit before taking over EGIS. Suleiman took part in the war in Yemen in 1962 and the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel.
    Intel chief: Suleiman was in charge of the country's most important political security files, and was the mastermind behind the fragmentation of Islamist groups who led the uprising against the state in the 1990s.

  • New PM

    Image: Ahmed Shafiq
    Mohamed Abd El Ghany  /  Reuters
    Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

    Name: Ahmed Shafiq
    Age: 69
    Role: President Mubarak appointed Shafiq as prime minister on Jan. 29.
    Background: A close associate of Mubarak, Shafiq has been minister of civil aviation since 2002. As minister of civil aviation, Shafiq has won a reputation for efficiency and administrative competence. He has supervised a successful modernization program at the state airline, EgyptAir, and improvements to the country's airports.
    Former fighter pilot: Shafiq served as commander of the Egyptian air force between 1996 and 2002, a post Mubarak held before he became vice president of Egypt under former President Anwar Sadat.

  • Rival

    Mohamed ElBaradei
    John Macdougall  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Mohamed ElBaradei

    Name: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Age: 68
    Role: The Nobel Peace Prize winner joined demonstrators trying to oust Mubarak. ElBaradei has suggested he might run for president if democratic and constitutional change were implemented.
    Atomic watchdog: ElBaradei joined the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1984 and served as its director-general in 1997. He transformed the IAEA into a body bold enough to take a stand on political issues relating to peace and proliferation, despite critics' belief that it was not its place. In 2005, ElBaradei and the IAEA were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He retired in 2009.
    Law and diplomacy: He studied law, graduating from the University of Cairo and the New York University School of Law. He began his career in the Egyptian diplomatic service in 1964, working twice in the permanent missions of Egypt to the United Nations in New York and Geneva. He was in charge of political, legal and arms control issues. He was a special assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister and was a member of the team that negotiated the peace settlement with Israel at Camp David in 1978. He joined the United Nations two years later.
    On Iraq: ElBaradei was outspoken on the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, which angered the Bush administration.

  • On guard

    Image:
    Lefteris Pitarakis  /  AP
    Egyptian army soldiers in Tahrir square in Cairo.

    Name: Egyptian Armed Forces
    Role: The army remains the most powerful institution in the nation, and whatever it does next will determine the future of the Arab world's most populous country. The military appeared to be going to great lengths to calm the country without appearing opposed to  demonstrations. 
    Background: Egypt's 500,000-man army has long enjoyed the respect of citizens who perceive it as the country's least corrupt and most efficient public institution, particularly compared to a police force notorious for heavy handedness and corruption. It is touted as having defeated Israel in the 1973 Mideast War, and revered for that role.
    Stabilizer: The military, for its part, sees itself as the guarantor of national stability and above the political fray, loyal to both the government and what it sees as the interests of the general population. The military has given Egypt all of its four presidents since the monarchy was toppled in 1952.
    Provider:  Although it has almost completely withdrawn from politics since 1952, the army has added to its strength by venturing into economic activity, playing a growing role in such key service industries as food production and construction. It stepped in in 2008 during an acute shortage of bread, Egypt's main stable, which it provided from its own bakeries. It has since opened outlets for basic food items sold as vastly discounted prices.

  • The Brotherhood

    Image: Mohamed Badie
    Asmaa Waguih  /  Reuters
    Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie

    Name: Muslim Brotherhood
    Role: The brotherhood is Egypt's largest and most organized political opposition movement. Banned in 1954 on charges of using violence, members returned to Egypt to show support in protests.
    Background: The group said it has since denounced violence and expanded its international presence. It has participated in Egyptian elections as independents despite frequent crackdowns. It surprisingly won about 20 percent of the 454 seats in 2005 parliamentary elections and since then, authorities have jailed around 5,000 of its members. The group believes in Islamic rule.
    New audience: The Muslim Brotherhood is the focus of a TV series, "Al-Gamaa," or "The Group," which centers on a 2009 court case in which members were accused of setting up a student militia.

  • Mubarak's son

    Image: Gamal Mubarak
    Khaled El Fiqi  /  EPA
    Gamal Mubarak

    Name: Gamal Mubarak
    Age: 47
    Role: Served as secretary general of his father's National Democratic Party.
    Background: The younger Mubarak spent 11 years working at Bank of America in Cairo and London, had gained considerable influence in government after his father appointed him head of the ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) policy committee in 2002. Many Egyptians felt Mubarak was grooming Gamal as his successor. Before Gamal rose to prominence, speculation was rife in the 1990s that Mubarak wanted Alaa, Gamal's younger brother, to succeed him.

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