Sunday, November 20, 2011

Police burn protest tents to clear Cairo's Tahrir

By MAGGIE MICHAEL and SARAH EL DEEB | Associated Press Nov. 20, 2011

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian soldiers and police set fire to protest tents in
Cairo's Tahrir Square and fired tear gas and rubber bullets in a major
assault Sunday to drive out thousands demanding that the military rulers
quickly transfer power to a civilian government. At least seven protesters
were killed and hundreds were injured.

It was the second day of clashes marking a sharp escalation of tensions on
Egypt's streets a week before the first elections since the ouster of
longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February. The military took
over the country, promising a swift transition to civilian rule. But the
pro-democracy protesters who led the uprising have grown increasingly
angry with the ruling generals, and suspect they are trying to cling to
power even after an elected parliament is seated and a new president is
voted in.

The military-backed Cabinet said in a statement that elections set to
begin on Nov. 28 would take place on time and thanked the police for their
"restraint," language that is likely to enrage the protesters even more.

"We're not going anywhere," protester Mohammed Radwan said after security
forces tried unsuccessfully to push the crowds out of Tahrir, the
epicenter of the uprising. "The mood is good now and people are chanting
again," he added after many of the demonstrators returned.

Two protesters were killed on Saturday, putting the toll for two days of
violence to nine. The clashes were some of the worst since the uprising
ended on Feb. 11.

They were also 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 after the uprising, they have largely stayed in the
background while the military took charge of security.

The military, which took over from Mubarak, has repeatedly pledged to hand
power to an elected civilian government, but has yet to set a specific
date. The protests over the past two days have demanded a specific date be

According to one timetable floated by the army, the handover will happen
after presidential elections late next year or early in 2013. The
protesters say this is too long and accuse the military of dragging its
feet. They want a handover immediately after the end of the staggered
parliamentary elections, which begin on Nov. 28 and end in March.

The protesters' suspicions about the military were fed by a proposal
issued by the military-appointed Cabinet last week. It would shield the
armed forces from any civilian oversight and give the generals veto power
over legislation dealing with military affairs.

But other concerns are also feeding the tensions on the street. Many
Egyptians are anxious about what the impending elections will bring.
Specifically they worry that stalwarts of Mubarak's ruling party could win
a significant number of seats in the next parliament because the military
did not ban them from running for public office as requested by activists.

The military's failure to issue such a ban has fed widely held suspicion
that the generals are reluctant to dismantle the old regime, partly out of
loyalty to Mubarak, their longtime mentor.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a statement expressing
"regret for the events."

The council doesn't intend "to extend the transitional period and will not
permit by any means hindering the process of democratic transition," it
said a statement read out on state TV.

The violence began Saturday when security forces stormed a sit-in at
Tahrir Square staged by protesters wounded in clashes during the 18-day
uprising in January and February and frustrated by the slow pace of
bringing those responsible to justice.

The wounded, some on crutches, ran away when police attacked, but some
fell down and were beaten by police.

One of those injured on Saturday was dentist Ahmed Hararah, who lost the
sight in his right eye on Jan. 28 and now thinks he lost the sight in his
left eye despite treatment at an eye hospital in Cairo.

The violence resumed Sunday, when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets
to try to clear about 5,000 protesters still in Tahrir. 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. "The violence yesterday showed us that Mubarak
is still in power," said Hani, who was wounded in the forehead by a rubber

Many of the protesters had red eyes and coughed incessantly. Some wore
surgical masks to ward off the tear gas. A few fainted, overwhelmed by the

Around sundown, an Associated Press reporter in Tahrir said police and
troops briefly chased the protesters out of most of the square. They set
at least a dozen of the protesters' tents, along with blankets and
banners, ablaze after nightfall and a pall of black smoke rose over the
square as the sound of gunshots rang out.

"This is what they (the military) will do if they rule the country," one
protester screamed while running away from the approaching security

Protesters initially ran away in panic while being chased by army soldiers
and police hitting them with clubs. But they later regrouped at the
southern entrance of the square next to the famed Egyptian museum and
began to walk back to the square. Hundreds made their way back, waving the
red, white and black Egyptian flags and chanting "Allahu akbar," or God is

Both sides then began pelting each other with rocks.

Security forces pulled back to the outskirts of the square, where clashes
continued into the night.

A medical official at Cairo's main morgue said at least seven protesters
were killed on Sunday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was
not authorized to talk to reporters.

Doctors at two field hospitals in the square said that among the dead was
one man killed by a blow to his head and another by gunshots.

Rocks, shattered glass and trash covered Tahrir Square and the side
streets around it. The windows of the main campus of the American
University in Cairo, which overlooks the square, were shattered and stores
were shuttered.

"The marshal is Mubarak's dog," read freshly scrawled graffiti in the square.

An Interior Ministry statement said 55 protesters have been arrested since
the violence began on Saturday and a total of 85 policemen were hurt in
clashes. It said some of the protesters were using firearms, firebombs and
knifes to attack security forces.

Doctors staffing two field hospitals in the square said they have treated
around 700 protesters on Sunday. Alaa Mohammed, a doctor, said most of
those treated suffered breathing problems or wounds caused by rubber

"The police are targeting the head, not the legs as they normally do,"
said Mohammed.

Clashes also took place in the city of Suez east of Cairo, the coastal
city of el-Arish in the Sinai Peninsula, the city of Alexandria and Assiut
in southern Egypt.


Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy contributed to this report from Cairo.

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