Two killed, hundreds wounded in Egypt protest clashes
CAIRO - Reuters
Protesters clash with Egyptian riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. AP Photo
Protesters demanding an end to army rule and angered by rough police tactics battled with police on Sunday, presenting Egypt's ruling generals with their biggest security challenge yet, a week before parliamentary elections.
Two people were killed and hundreds wounded in late night clashes reminiscent of some of the worst violence during the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February.
Youths in Cairo chanted "The people want to topple the regime" as they rushed at police, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas. Protesters clashed with police in two other cities.
Egypt holds its first parliamentary election since Mubarak's ouster in a staggered vote that starts on Nov. 28. Many Egyptians are worried that police will not be able to secure the polls, although the army insists it can.
Presidential powers remain with the army after the vote. A row has erupted between political groups and the army-picked cabinet over ground rules for drafting the constitution that could leave the military free of civilian control. Parliament is to pick the assembly to draw up the constitution.
There was sporadic violence on Sunday after the worst overnight clashes subsided. Thousands of demonstrators were still in Cairo's Tahrir Square, forming lines to defend it.
Brandishing spent shotgun cartridges in a Cairo street strewn with debris, one protester shouted: "This is the Interior Ministry who say they are using self-restraint!"
Demonstrators around him wore masks to protect against teargas and showed off spent gas canisters and bullet casings. Metal barricades had been set up on approach roads to Tahrir Square, where Egyptians gathered to bring down Mubarak.
Many Egyptians are angry that nine-months after ousting Mubarak, the army remains in charge and police are still using the same heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators.
'Do not leave the square'
"We are on the brink of danger. Those asking for the government to fall are asking for the state to fall," Egyptian army General Mohsen Fangary told a television channel.
He said the election would go ahead on time and the army and Interior Ministry would maintain security. He also said the army, in line with a timetable previously announced, aimed to return to barracks by the end of 2012. Presidential elections could be held by then.
Cabinet met on Sunday to discuss the violence.
As police fired round after round of tear gas at protesters near the Interior Ministry, closer to Tahrir the demonstrators laid sheets of metal to block roads into the square.
"I tell you do not leave the square. This square will lead the way from now on," presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a hardline Islamist, told a group of protesters early on Sunday. "Tomorrow the whole of Egypt will follow your lead."
During Saturday's clashes, protesters broke chunks of cement from pavements and hurled them at police.
"We don't expect anything from the military council, they will ignore us like what used to happen during Mubarak's days," said Abdallah Belal, a 21-year-old student in Tahrir.
The state news agency quoted the Health Ministry as saying 766 people had been wounded and two people were killed. It said a man, 23, was killed in Cairo by a gunshot to the chest and a man in the second city Alexandria had a gunshot to the head.
A security official said police had not use live rounds and had used lawful methods to deal with "troublemakers". The army stayed away from fighting.
The army won popular backing during Mubarak's overthrow for maintaining order and pledging to hand power to an elected government, but support has ebbed over its use of military trials for civilians and suspicion that it wants to continue to wield the levers of power after a new government is sworn in.
Protest at police
About 5,000 protesters had converged on Tahrir on Saturday afternoon when police tried to evict the remnants of a 50,000-strong demonstration a day earlier, mostly by Islamists demanding the departure of the military.
Police beat the protesters, most of them not Islamists, with batons and fired tear gas to regain control of the square, only to retreat after night fell.
Protests erupted in other cities. About 800 people gathered in front of the security directorate in Alexandria, chanting: "Interior Ministry officials are thugs."
About 1,000 gathered outside a police station in the eastern city of Suez, site of some of the worst violence in the uprising. They threw stones at it and tried to force their way in. Police fired tear gas and shot in the air.
Liberal groups are dismayed by the military trials of thousands of civilians and the army's failure to scrap a hated emergency law. Islamists eyeing a strong showing in the next parliament suspect the army wants to curtail their influence.
Analysts say Islamists could win 40 percent of parliamentary seats, with a big portion going to the Muslim Brotherhood. "We are not political parties and we hate the Brotherhood who gave up on the revolution and the people," Medhat Fawzy said. "We are Egyptian youth," he said, flashing a victory sign.
The liberal April 6 Youth movement said the interior minister should quit for ordering the use of force against a peaceful protest.
Friday's rally appeared to be the biggest Islamist challenge to military rule since the largely secular uprising that toppled Mubarak. The demonstration mostly comprised of Brotherhood members and their harder line Salafi rivals.
Protesters expressed anger at a draft constitution that Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Silmi showed to political groups earlier this month that would give the army exclusive authority over its internal affairs and budget.