At least one person was killed and 71 injured after the Egyptian army charged into protesters gathered in the Cairo square at the heart of the uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak.
Officials from Egypt's health ministry said the casualties followed a military operation to disperse the thousands gathered in Tahrir Square to demand the removal of the man who replaced President Mubarak when he resigned in February.
Hundreds of soldiers waded into the square at 3am yesterday, clubbing protesters and shooting into the air in an attempt to break up a demonstration that began on Friday evening. The main target of the raid was a tented encampment in the centre of the square.
However, despite claims that the injured had suffered gunshot wounds, the army denied using live rounds. It also denied any arrests had been made, but protesters said several demonstrators had been dragged into vans. An army statement later blamed "outlaws" for rioting and violating the 2am-to-5am curfew – but claimed no one was harmed. It added: "The armed forces stress they will not tolerate... rioting or any act that harms the interest of the country and the people."
The confrontation was the latest demonstration of growing tensions between the military and pro-democracy protesters. It was in sharp contrast to the good relations they enjoyed during the campaign to unseat Mr Mubarak, when the army was praised for refusing to fire on protesters.
The latest show of discontent brought tens of thousands of Egyptians to Tahrir Square, demanding the removal of the defence minister, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who heads the military council that runs the country. A number of protesters have complained about the slow pace of reforms and the failure, so far, to prosecute Mr Mubarak and his family on corruption charges. Reports of protesters being arrested and tortured by the military have also increased lately.
Organisers labelled the protest "Friday of Purification and Trial", referring to the demand to cleanse the government of corruption.
Protesters were not placated by the news that Mr Mubarak's former chief of staff had been held for questioning on corruption allegations. Zakariya Azmi is the highest-ranking member of the old regime to be arrested so far.
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