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However, on one bridge over the Nile, protesters tried to block some military vehicles with metal barricades.

Throughout the day, protesters rocked, overturned and firebombed armored police carriers and smashed their windows.

In one of many astonishing scenes Friday, thousands of anti-government protesters wielding rocks, glass and sticks chased hundreds of riot police away from the main square in downtown Cairo and several of the policemen stripped off their uniforms and badges and joined the demonstrators.

An Associated Press reporter saw the protesters cheering the police who joined them, hoisting them on their shoulders in one of the many dramatic and chaotic scenes across Egypt.

After chasing the police, thousands of protesters were able to flood into the huge Tahrir Square downtown. They had been kept out most of the day by a very heavy police presence.

The unrest began when tens of thousands poured into the streets after noon prayers in the mosques, stoning and confronting police who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Groups of thousands of protesters, some chanting “out, out, out,” defied a ban that has been in place for days on any gatherings and turned out at different venues across Cairo, a city of about 18 million people. Some marched toward major squares and across scenic Nile bridges.

As the sun set, burning tires, buildings and cars sent up plumes of black smoke across the cityscape. Security officials said there were protests in at least 11 of the country’s 28 provinces.

In one of the many signs of chaos and confusion, state TV made conflicting announcements on how extensive the night curfew is — at first saying it was in force only in Cairo, Alexandria and the flashpoint city of Suez. It later announced the curfew was nationwide, but then retracted it and said it was only in the three cities.

In Cairo, one of the buildings burning in the ruling party’s complex was near the Egyptian Museum, which is one of the country’s best-known tourist attractions and home to the treasures of King Tutankhamun.

The protesters were energized by the return of Mr. ElBaradei on Thursday night after a month abroad. He declared he was prepared to lead the opposition to a regime change. When he joined protesters after noon prayers, police fired water cannons at him and his supporters. They used batons to beat some of Mr. ElBaradei’s supporters, who surrounded him to protect him.

A soaking wet Mr. 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. Tear gas canisters set several cars ablaze outside the mosque and several people fainted and suffered burns.

When he returned home, police stationed outside told him he was not allowed to leave again.

Abeer Ahmed, a 31-year-old woman who showed up for ElBaradei with her toddler, said she has a law degree but makes a living cleaning homes.

“Nothing good is left in the country,” she said. “Oppression is growing.”

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