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CAIRO (AP) – CAIRO – The Egyptian capital Cairo was the scene of violent chaos Friday, when tens of thousands of anti-government protesters stoned and confronted police, who fired back with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons. It was a major escalation in what was already the biggest challenge to authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year-rule.

Police also fired water cannons at one of the country’s leading pro-democracy advocates, Mohamed ElBaradei, and his supporters as they joined the latest wave of protests after noon prayers. Police used batons to beat some of ElBaradei’s supporters, who surrounded him to protect him.

A soaking wet ElBaradei was trapped inside a mosque while hundreds of riot police laid siege to it, firing tear gas in the streets around so no one could leave. The tear gas canisters set several cars ablaze outside the mosque and several people fainted and suffered burns.

Large groups of protesters, in the thousands, were gathered at at least six venues in Cairo, a city of about 18 million people, and many of them were on the move marching toward major squares and across Nile bridges.

They are demanding Mubarak’s ouster and venting their rage at years of government neglect of rampant poverty, unemployment and rising food prices.

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