CAIRO - Egypt's army said on Wednesday it was deploying extra troops to control clashes that erupted at a protest near the Defense Ministry in Cairo, where medical and security sources said the death toll had risen to 11.
"Eight armored personnel carriers from the military central zone entered the Abassiya area to disperse the fighting between protesters, and not to disperse the peaceful demonstrators. However, protesters attacked the armed forces. The armed forces have orders to hold their ground," an army statement said.
The army said clashes had been contained. A Reuters witness said the situation on the ground had calmed.
The state news agency MENA said thugs, some of them with guns, had assaulted hundreds of mainly Salafi protesters, many of whom have been camped near the ministry for six days.
The Health Ministry said more than 100 people had been wounded in the dawn fighting with sticks, stones, batons and bullets. Low-level clashes continued hours after the initial attack.
The violence casts a shadow over the presidential election due to begin on May 23 and 24, with a run-off in June, and highlights the fragility of Egypt's transition to democracy which has been punctuated by violence and political bickering.
Many of the demonstrators were supporters of an ultra-orthodox Salafi sheikh who was disqualified from the presidential election, drawing accusations that the ruling military council was trying to dictate the result in advance.
Residents gathered around a police station in the vicinity after the clashes, demanding that police disperse the protesters, whom they also accused of being thugs. Protesters often accuse state security of paying or encouraging thugs to quash peaceful demonstrations.
The army, which has pledged to hand over to civilian rule after the presidential election, has faced mounting criticism of its handling of the political transition a popular uprising overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Many Egyptians suspect the generals will seek a strong influence even after the new president assumes power.
A leading Islamist candidate in Egypt's presidential race, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, suspended campaign events on Wednesday until further notice in protest at the way the authorities handled the protest in Cairo, a spokesman said.
"Anything related to campaigning today including voluntary activities on the ground is being suspended," Ali al-Bahnasawy, his media adviser, told Reuters.
Mohamed Mursi, the presidential candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood, said in a statement he was suspending his campaign for two days in mourning for the dead.