Further clashes amid Egyptian unrest

 

Running battles flared in central Cairo today even after Egyptian military police reinforced riot police guarding the Interior Ministry, a flashpoint for violence.

Riot police had earlier pulled back in what seemed to be an effort to calm tension after more than 30 people have been killed and 2,000 wounded in Egypt in six days of protests targeting the ruling army council, not the army itself.

But clashes erupted after nightfall as military police showered tear gas on stone-throwing demonstrators and fired guns into the air. Protesters stampeded back towards nearby Tahrir Square. Ambulances, sirens wailing, ferried casualties away while smoke billowed over the area from fires lit by youths.

The protesters have derided an agreement forged yesterday by the military council and mostly Islamist parties for a swifter transfer to civilian rule.

As dusk fell, thousands of people, many of them onlookers, had crowded into Tahrir, which was also the arena of protests which toppled President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February.

Vendors were selling everything from snacks to face masks for protection against wafting tear gas.

Fatihia Abdul Ezz, a 60-year-old woman, said she had come to the square for the first time after seeing images of violence.

"They (the army rulers) were with Mubarak from the start," she said. "I came when I saw our sons being killed."

Protesters unfurled a huge sign denouncing army commander Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, his deputy Sami Enan and the council that has run Egypt since Mubarak's overthrow.

"Down, down with military rule. We the people are the red line. The people want to bring down the field marshal, Sami Enan and the military council," it read.

One man walked around the square holding aloft 10 spent tear gas shells, along with cartridge casings threaded on a string.

The overall death toll has reached 38 by a Reuters count after a man was killed in Alexandria and another died in what the state news agency MENA said was an attack on a police station in the northern town of Marsa Matrouh.

The Health Ministry said 32 people had been killed and 2,000 wounded in disturbances across the country of 80 million.

Tantawi promised yesterday that a civilian president would be elected in June, about six months sooner than the army had planned.

"Leave, leave!" responded crowds in Tahrir Square. "The people want to topple the marshal."

The military had originally promised to return to barracks within six months of Mubarak's removal. Its apparent reluctance to relinquish its power and privilege has fuelled frustration among Egyptians who feared their revolution had changed nothing.

Tantawi, who was Mubarak's defence minister for two decades, adjusted the schedule after generals met politicians, including leaders of the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, which is eager to turn decades of grassroots endeavour into electoral success.

A parliamentary election, billed as Egypt's first free vote in decades, will start on Monday as planned, Tantawi confirmed.

Voting for the upper and lower houses will be completed only in March under a complex, staggered process. Parliament will then pick an assembly to draw up a new constitution, an exercise which the Brotherhood and its rivals are keen to influence.

France added its voice to those of UN and rights groups in denouncing the military's handling of the protests.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said his country "strongly condemns the excessive use of force against demonstrators" and called for elections to go ahead on time.

United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay called for an independent investigation into the bloodshed, saying the killing of protesters was inflaming the crisis.

"I urge the Egyptian authorities to end the clearly excessive use of force against protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country, including the apparent improper use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition," Pillay said.

Tantawi angered many youthful demonstrators by suggesting a referendum on whether military rule should end earlier, which they took as a ploy to undermine their cause by appealing to the many Egyptians who fear further upheaval.

"We have to wait and be patient with army rule. We shouldn't have a referendum, it's a waste of time," said Mohamed Rasheed, 62, a salesman in a Cairo jewellery shop, who pointed to discordant opinions among protesters in Tahrir.

"If we listen to them all, we are going to become like Lebanon," he said, evoking a nation notorious for conflict.

Tantawi may calculate that most Egyptians, alarmed by turmoil that has hammered an already troubled economy, would prefer army rule to the uncertainties of a radical upheaval.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which helped organise a big protest on Friday but stayed out of subsequent demonstrations, seems willing to compromise with the military in the interest of securing a substantial voice in the new parliament.

Some other Islamist and liberal parties, as well as three out of more than 10 declared presidential candidates, also took part in Tuesday's crisis talks with the military council.

Tantawi has promised a national salvation government to replace Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's cabinet, which resigned this week, but remains in a caretaker role.

Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before