Sunday, December 18, 2011

Egypt troops, protesters clash again, widening rifts

Protesters and troops fought in Cairo on Sunday, the third day of clashes that have killed 10 people and exposed rifts over the army's role as it manages Egypt's promised transition from military to civilian rule.

Troops have set up barriers on streets around Tahrir Square, the hub of the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak and now again convulsed by violence as protesters demand that the generals who took charge in February quit power.

Soldiers in riot gear were filmed on Saturday beating protesters with long sticks even after they had fallen to the ground. A Reuters picture showed two soldiers dragging a woman lying on the ground by her shirt, exposing her underwear.

The violence has overshadowed a staggered parliamentary election, the first free vote most Egyptians can remember, that is set to give Islamists the biggest bloc.

Some Egyptians are enraged by the army's behavior. Others want to focus on voting, not street protests.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will retain power even after the lower house vote is completed in January, but has pledged to hand over to an elected president by July.

"The army council must go," said a protester with a bandaged head, who gave his name as Mohamed, after another night of clashes between soldiers and activists who had stayed in Tahrir.

Nearby dozens of youths hurled rocks at troops behind a barrier of barbed wire and metal sheets.
"It's cat-and-mouse. The army raid and retreat," protester Mostafa Fahmy said by telephone, shortly before dawn.

A hardcore of activists have camped in Tahrir since a protest against army rule on November 18 that was sparked by the army-backed cabinet's proposals to permanently shield the military from civilian oversight in the new constitution.

Bouts of violence since then, including a flare-up last month that killed 42, have deepened frustrations of many other Egyptians, who want an end to protests. They see the military as the only force capable of restoring stability.

Hundreds of protesters were in Tahrir in the early morning, some huddled round fires to keep warm in the chill air after troops had burned down their tents the day before.

Reuters television footage showed one soldier in a line of charging troops firing a shot at fleeing protesters on Saturday, though it was not clear whether he was using live rounds.
The army said it does not use live ammunition. It has also said troops had tackled only "thugs," not protesters.


Protesters and soldiers have hurled rocks at each other. Some demonstrators have also lobbed petrol bombs at army lines. A building with historic archives was gutted by a fire.

Health Minister Fouad el-Nawawy told local television 10 people had been killed, most of them on Friday or early on Saturday, and 441 wounded. State media said at least 200 people had been taken to hospital.
Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, 78, said 30 security guards outside parliament had been hurt and 18 people wounded by gunshots. He blamed violence on youths among the protesters.

"What is happening in the streets today is not a revolution, rather it is an attack on the revolution," the army-appointed premier said.

The army says it has sought to separate protesters and troops to quell the violence. On one of the main streets leading from Tahrir to the cabinet and parliament, where violence has been fiercest, the army has erected a wall of concrete blocks.

State media have gave conflicting accounts of what sparked the violence. They quoted some people saying a man went into the parliament compound to retrieve a mis-kicked football, but was harassed and beaten by police and guards. Others said the man had prompted scuffles by trying to set up camp in the compound.
The latest bloodshed began after the second round of voting last week for parliament's lower house. The staggered election began on November 28 and will end with a run-off vote on January 11.

The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties repressed in the 30-year Mubarak era have emerged as strong front-runners.

Referring to the Cairo clashes, the Brotherhood said the military must apologize for the "crime that has been committed"

In a statement, the army council "expressed its regret about events" on Friday, but stopped short of an apology.