Egypt’s capital was the scene of violent chaos Friday as tens of thousands of anti-government protesters stoned and confronted police, who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas — a major escalation in the biggest challenge to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Egyptian security officials say Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei under house arrest.

Groups of thousands of protesters, some chanting “out, out, out,” 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. There were smaller protests in Assiut south of Cairo and al-Arish in the Sinai peninsula. Regional television stations were reporting clashes between thousands of demonstrators and police in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria and Minya south of Cairo.

“It’s time for this government to change,” said Amal Ahmed, a 22-year-old protester. “I want a better future for me and my family when I get married.”

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

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