Army, police clash with protesters in Tahrir

Army, police clash with protesters in Tahrir

CAIRO - The Associated Press
Army, police clash with protesters in Tahrir

Egyptian protesters face off against riot police during clashes at Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday demanding that the military to hand over power. AFP photo

Egyptian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in a second day of clashes yesterday with rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government.

Tensions are rising on Egypt’s streets in the days leading up to Nov. 28 the start of the first parliamentary elections since the ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. The violence reflects rising public anger over the slow pace of reforms and apparent attempts by the ruling generals to retain power over a future civilian government.

An estimated 5,000 people protested yesterday in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak in February. Many chanted “freedom, freedom” as they pelted police with rocks and a white cloud of tear gas hung in the air.

“We have a single demand: The marshal must step down and be replaced by a civilian council,” said protester Ahmed Hani, referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council and Mubarak’s longtime defense minister.

In clashes Nov. 19 in Cairo and other major cities, two protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded. The clashes were one of only a few violent confrontations to involve the police since the uprising. The black-clad police were a hated symbol of Mubarak’s regime and they have largely stayed in the background while the military took charge of security. There was no military presence in and around Tahrir Square on Nov. 19 and yesterday.

The military, which took over from Mubarak, has repeatedly pledged to hand over power to an elected government but has yet to set a specific date. According to one timetable floated by the army, the handover will happen after presidential elections are held late next year or early in 2013. The protesters say this is too late and accuse the military of dragging its feet. They want a handover immediately after the end of the staggered parliamentary elections, which will take place over the months to come and finish in March.

Yesterday, rocks, shattered glass and trash covered Tahrir Square and the side streets around it. Several hundred protesters were camping out on the lawn of the square’s traffic island, and protesters manning barricades into the square checked the IDs of anyone trying to enter. The windows of the main campus of the American University in Cairo, which overlooks the square, were shattered and stores were shuttered.