Egyptian forces, dispersing an overnight sit-in in Tahrir Square, killed two protesters Saturday, the first reported deaths in the Cairo plaza since president Hosni Mubarak's ouster, but demonstrators later swarmed back.
Witnesses said that troops, backed by riot police, fired live rounds mostly in the air and beat protesters who had camped out in the square after tens of thousands rallied on Friday for the prosecution of Mubarak and other leading figures of his regime.
A military official did not immediately confirm or deny the deaths but said the army had used only blanks in dispersing the protesters, who included at least seven dissident army officers.
The medics, who said 17 people were also wounded in the clashes, did not say whether the deaths were caused by live rounds.
If confirmed, they would be the first deaths in the square since it became the iconic focal point of the 18 straight days of protests that triggered Mubarak's resignation on February 11.
The military withdrew from the square in the morning, prompting the swift return of at least 200 protesters.
A charred military bus was still in flames, and stones and bullet casings littered the ground from the violence of the previous night.
The protesters, many of whom wielded clubs, called for the head of the military council which took the reins when Mubarak quit, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, to relinquish power.
Tantawi served as the ousted president's defence minister for two of his three decades in power.
The demonstrators cordoned the entrances to the square with barbed wire abandoned by military police.
The mood was tense as some protesters surrounded a man who objected to their presence, pummelling him with punches and kicks before other demonstrators intervened.
The military had moved in after the tens of thousands who rallied on Friday were joined by dissident army officers.
The interim military government said that "elements from the interior ministry" backed by civilians had cleared the "outlaws" from the square, in a statement carried by the official MENA news agency.
But the mood on Saturday morning was decidedly anti-military.
"I've come to Tahrir Square because we are witnessing a counter-revolution," student Malik Asam told AFP.
Another student, Anas Mohamed, said: "I had expected to see the other face of the military, but if they carry on as they are, they will see the other face of the people."
During the mass rally after the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday, protesters were joined by at least seven dissident officers who called for the "purification" of the army.
At midnight (2200 GMT) Friday, the officers were still in the square, gathered in a tent surrounded by more than a dozen protesters who wanted to guard them against arrest.
Cairo remains under a 2 am to 5 am (0000 to 0300 GMT) curfew.
"Elements from the interior ministry along with some noble citizens confronted the riotous actions and enforced the curfew without any losses," the armed forces statement carried by MENA said.
A separate statement posted on the military's Facebook page blamed "remnants" of the formerly ruling National Democratic Party for the demonstration and said it had ordered the arrest of four party members it accused of "thuggery" during the sit-in.
Friday's rally, dubbed the "Day of Trial and Cleansing", was a colourful affair as the protesters, waving flags and holding banners, vowed to press the ruling military council to deliver on promises of reform and justice.
Seven army officers defied a warning from the ruling military council when they joined the protesters' call for former regime elements to face trial.
"Our demands are your demands. We want a civilian government. We want to try corrupt people," one officer said to loud cheers.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, that took power after Mubarak's ouster, warned that anyone protesting in military uniform on Friday would face trial in a military court.