WORLD IN BRIEF: Mubarak backers attack anti-government protesters

CAIRO — Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak charged into Cairo’s central square on horseback and camels brandishing whips while others rained firebombs from rooftops in what appeared to be an orchestrated assault against anti-government protesters trying to topple Egypt’s leader of 30 years. Three people died and at least 600 were injured in the uncontrolled violence.

The protesters accused Mubarak’s regime of unleashing a force of paid thugs and plainclothes police to crush their unprecedented, 9-day-old movement demanding his ouster, a day after the 82-year-old president refused to step down. They showed off police ID badges they said were wrested from their attackers. Some government workers said their employers ordered them into the streets.

Mustafa el-Fiqqi, a top official from the ruling National Democratic Party, told The Associated Press that businessmen connected to the ruling party were responsible for what happened.

The notion that the state may have coordinated violence against protesters, who had kept a peaceful vigil in Tahrir Square for five days, prompted one of the sharpest rebukes yet from the Obama administration.

Massive cyclone strikes Australia

CAIRNS, Australia — A massive cyclone struck northeastern Australia early today, tearing off roofs, toppling trees and cutting electricity to thousands — the most powerful storm to hit the area in nearly a century.

The eye of Cyclone Yasi roared ashore at the small resort town of Mission Beach in Queensland state, battering the coast known to tourists as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef with heavy rain and howling winds gusting to 186 mph.

‘‘Vegetation has been reduced to sticks,’’ said Sgt. Dan Gallagher, Mission Beach officer in charge.

Yasi compounded the suffering for Queensland, waterlogged by months of flooding that killed 35 people and inundated hundreds of communities. It struck an area far north of the flood zone, but the Bureau of Meteorology said its drenching rains could cause floods in new parts of the state.

The extent of property damage across Queensland was unknown just before dawn because it was still too dangerous to venture very far outside homes and evacuation centers.

No deaths or serious injuries have been reported.