Military police battled demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Sunday, the third day of clashes that have killed 10 people and injured hundreds, only days after the first free election most Egyptians can remember.
Egyptian television showed military police advancing from behind their barriers and fighting protesters in the square, the hub of the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, at around 1am.
Army vehicles and soldiers were deployed at roads into the square on Saturday evening, when protesters and troops threw rocks at each other and protesters lobbed petrol bombs at army lines.
Earlier, troops in riot gear chased protesters into side streets, grabbed them, beat them to the ground and battered them, a Reuters journalist said. Shots were fired in the air.
Soldiers pulled down protester tents and set them on fire, local TV footage showed. Reuters footage showed one soldier in a line of charging troops firing a shot at fleeing protesters, though whether he was using blanks or live rounds was not known.
State media gave conflicting accounts of what sparked the violence. They quoted some people as saying a man went into the Parliament compound to retrieve a miss-kicked football but was harassed and beaten by police and guards. Others said the man had prompted scuffles by trying to set up camp in the compound.
Ten months after a popular revolt toppled Mubarak, tensions are running high. The army generals who replaced him have angered some Egyptians by seeming reluctant to give up power. Others back the military as a force for badly needed stability during a difficult transition to democracy.
‘Down with military rule’
The latest bloodshed follows unrest in which 42 people were killed in the week before November 28, the start of a phased parliamentary poll in which Islamist parties repressed during the 30-year Mubarak era have emerged as strong front-runners.
Voting in the second round of the election process, part of a promised transition from army to civilian rule by July, passed peacefully on Wednesday and Thursday. The last run-off vote for the lower house takes place on January 11.
Health Minister Fouad el-Nawawy told local television that 10 people had been killed, most of them on Friday or early on Saturday and 441 injured. State media said at least 200 people were taken to hospital.
Among the dead was Emad Effat, a senior official of Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta, a religious authority that issues Islamic fatwas (edicts). His wife said Effat died from a gunshot wound. At his funeral on Saturday, hundreds of mourners chanted “Down with military rule”.
Army-appointed Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri (78) said 30 security guards outside parliament had been hurt and blamed the violence on youths among the protesters. “What is happening in the streets today is not a revolution, rather it is an attack on the revolution,” he said.
The army assault on Saturday followed skirmishes between protesters and troops during which a fire destroyed archives, some more than 200-years-old, in a building next to Tahrir.
An army official said troops had tackled thugs, not protesters, after shots were fired at soldiers and petrol bombs set the building ablaze, the state news agency MENA reported.
Desperate for order
Tahrir protesters and some other Egyptians are infuriated by the perceived reluctance to quit power of the army, whose ruling council is headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades.
Other Egyptians, desperate for order, voiced frustration about the unrest that has battered the economy.
“We can’t work, we can’t live and because of what? Because of some thugs who have taken control of the square and destroyed our lives. Those are no revolutionaries,” said Mohamed Abdel Halim, a 21-year-old who runs a store near Tahrir.
A new civilian advisory council to the generals said it would suspend its meetings until the violence stopped. It called for prosecution of those responsible and the release of all those detained in the unrest.
Islamist and liberal politicians decried the army’s tactics.
The Muslim Brotherhood, whose party list is leading the election, said in a statement the military must make “a clear and quick apology for the crime that has been committed”.
The army council is in charge until a presidential election in June, but parliament will have a popular mandate that the military will find hard to ignore as it oversees the transition. — Reuters