Egypt's riot police clash with protesters in Cairo

 

Cairo


Egyptian riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets stormed into Cairo's Tahrir Square Saturday to dismantle a protest tent camp, setting off intense clashes that injured at least 507 people.

The scenes of protesters fighting with black-clad police forces were reminiscent of the 18-day uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February. Hundreds of protesters fought back, hurling stones and setting an armored police vehicle ablaze. 

The violence took place just nine days before Egypt's first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections and as public anger rises at the slow pace of reforms and apparent attempts by Egypt's ruling generals to retain power over a future civilian government. 

Witnesses said the clashes began when riot police dismantled a small tent camp set up to commemorate the hundreds of protesters killed in the uprising and attacked around 200 peaceful demonstrators who had camped in the square overnight in an attempt to restart a long-term sit-in there. 

"Violence breeds violence," said Sahar Abdel-Mohsen, an engineer who joined in the protest after a call went out on Twitter urging people to come to Tahrir to defend against the police attacks. "We are tired of this and we are not leaving the square." 

Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and beat protesters with batons, clearing the square at one point and pushing the fighting into surrounding side streets of downtown Cairo. State TV, quoting the Health Ministry, reported that 507 people were injured. 

Abdel-Mohsen said a friend was wounded by a rubber bullet that struck his head and that she saw another protester wounded by a pellet in his neck. 

Crowds swarmed an armored police truck, rocking it back and forth and setting it ablaze. Black smoke rose over the crowd. 

Saturday's confrontation was one of the few since the uprising to involve police forces, which have largely stayed in the background while the military takes charge of security. There was no military presence in and around the square on Saturday. 

The black-clad police were a hated symbol of Mubarak's regime. 

"The people want to topple the regime," shouted enraged crowds, reviving the chant from the early days of the uprising. Crowds also screamed: "Riot police are thugs and thieves" and "Down with the Marshal," referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's military ruler. 

After nightfall, protesters swarmed back into the square in the thousands, setting tires ablaze in the street and filling the area with an acrid, black smoke screen. Police appeared to retreat to surrounding areas, leaving protesters free to retake and barricade themselves inside the square. The air was still thick with stinging tear gas. 

Some of the wounded had blood streaming down their faces and many had to be carried out of the square by fellow protesters to waiting ambulances. 

Human rights activists accused police of excessive force. 

One prominent activist, Malek Mostafa, lost his right eye from a rubber bullet, said Ghada Shahbandar, a member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. 

At least four protesters were injured in the eyes as a result of what Shahbandar said were orders to target protesters' heads. 

"It is a crime," she said. "They were shooting rubber bullets directly at the heads. ... I heard an officer ordering his soldiers to aim for the head." 

Police arrested 18 people, state TV reported, describing the protesters as rioters. 

A day earlier, tens of thousands of Islamists and young activists had massed in Tahrir Square to protest Egypt's ruling military council, which took control of the country after Mubarak's ouster and has been harshly criticized for its oversight of the bumpy transition period. 

Friday's crowd, the largest in months, was mobilized by the Muslim Brotherhood and focused its anger on a document drafted by the military that spells out guiding principles for a new constitution. 

Under those guidelines, the military and its budget would be shielded from civilian oversight. An early version of it also said the military would appoint 80 members of the 100-person constitutional committee — a move that would vastly diminish the new parliament's role. 

Groups across the political spectrum rejected the document, calling it an attempt by the military to perpetuate its rule past the post-Mubarak transition. Back in February, the military had promised it would return to the country to civilian rule within six months. Now, there is deep uncertainty over the timeline, and presidential elections might not be held until 2013. 

Friday's demonstration dispersed peacefully, but several hundred people remained in the square overnight in an attempt to re-establish a semi-permanent presence in the square to pressure the military council. 

Violence began in Saturday afternoon, as police moved in to clear them. 

The number of protesters swelled to several thousand as news of the fighting spread in the city, and thousands more riot police streamed into Tahrir Square, blocking entrances and clashing with protesters before disappearing after nightfall. 

The Interior Ministry, which runs the country's police forces, accused people of trying to escalate tensions ahead of the parliamentary elections, which begin on Nov. 28 and will be held in stages continuing through March. 

Activists say they just want to guard the outcome of their revolution. 

Unemployed graduate student Nasser Ezzat said he traveled from southern Egypt to Tahrir because he wanted to help finish the revolution that people died for. He came to the square on Friday, leaving behind his a pregnant wife in the city of Sohag. 

"I dream of a fairer Egypt for my unborn daughter, one without police harassment and corruption," he said on Saturday. 

Crowds also directed their anger at the police, which were the muscle behind Mubarak's heavy handed rule. 

"This violence is the same as the old regime," activist Mona Seif said. "Police are telling us they are carrying out orders to beat us until we leave." 

Seif is the sister of prominent blogger and activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who is in jail after refusing to answer questions over his alleged role in sectarian clashes. He leads a campaign to end the trials of civilians in military courts. 

Rights groups estimate that up to 12,000 people have been tried in military courts since Mubarak was ousted. 

 

AP

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape