(photo credit: Reuters)
CAIRO - Egyptian riot police fired barrages of tear gas at hardcore protesters demanding Egypt's army relinquish power in a sixth night of violence which has led the interior minister, according to one report, to propose postponing elections due on Nov. 28.
Scores of young men, coughing and gasping for air stumbled into dark side streets off Cairo's Tahrir Square to escape the acrid smoke during the to-and-fro battle with police.
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But undeterred, tens of thousands still thronged the square peacefully late into the night on Wednesday to protest at the deaths of more than 30 people in the violence and reject the army's offer of a referendum on its rule.
In light of the violence, Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy presented a report to the military council proposing a postponement of the parliamentary election planned for Nov. 28, Al Jazeera television said on Thursday, quoting unnamed sources. It was not immediately possible to verify the report.
The election, due to begin on Monday, has been billed as Egypt's first free vote in decades.
The army and the Muslim Brotherhood, which expects to do well in the election, says it must go ahead but many protesters are unwilling to trust the army to oversee a clean vote and hand real control of the country to the winner.
The generals' popularity has waned in the nine months since they nudged President Hosni Mubarak from office and swore to steer the country towards civilian democracy, as suspicion grew that they were manoeuvring to stay in power beyond elections.
The head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, has pledged to bring forward a presidential vote and offered a new interim government but the demonstrators are unconvinced.
"The military council must leave and hand power to civilians. They don't want to leave so that their corruption isn't exposed," said 23-year-old student Ahmed Essam.
He said he joined the protests when he saw riot police raining blows on peaceful demonstrators on Saturday. "Everything is like in Mubarak's time," he said.
Gunfire rattled near the Interior Ministry, a symbol of state authority and target of the protesters, on Wednesday night. Several gave accounts of people shot dead but these could not immediately be verified.
At a makeshift clinic near Tahrir, doctor Tareq Salem said four people had died there on Wednesday, two from bullet wounds and two from asphyxiation.
He said three volunteer doctors have been killed since the violence began.
"They were fresh graduates," he said, splashing his face with saline fluid to counter the effects of the latest barrage of gas. One died of suffocation, the other two of bullet wounds sustained while assessing injuries outside, he said.
Essawy told state television earlier that only tear gas was being fired by the security forces but there were unidentified people shooting from rooftops near Tahrir.
Thousands turned out in the second city of Alexandria and in Port Said.
One died and two were injured in Ismailia, a city on the Suez Canal,
security sources said.
Protesters accused the army of using hired thugs to buildings and paint a political protest as mindless vandalism.
stations showed a man being beaten in Tahrir Square after he was
accused of working for state security under cover and shooting at
Ambulances, sirens wailing, ferried casualties away while smoke billowed over the area from fires lit by youths.
rang out repeatedly, fuel-filled bottles erupted in flames and riot
police filled the street in front of their main position with round
after round of tear gas, driving protesters, coughing, into side
streets. Every so often, the demonstrators regrouped and would again
edge towards the ministry.
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