Soldiers, protesters clash for third day in Egypt

Military deployed in Cairo's Tahrir Square after 10 killed over weekend; soldiers, protesters scuffle, witnesses report gunfire.

By REUTERS
December 18, 2011 09:30
2 minute read.
Egpytian soldiers in Tahrir Square on 12/17

Egpytian soldiers in Tahrir Square 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

CAIRO - Military police battled demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Sunday, the third day of clashes that have killed 10 people and injured hundreds, casting a shadow over the first free election most Egyptians can remember.

Soldiers advanced from barriers around the square shortly before dawn, scuffling with protesters, activists said. A Reuters witness heard gunfire and saw protesters, brandishing big sticks, running from the scene of the latest flare-up.

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"It's cat-and-mouse. The army raid and retreat," a protester in the square, Mostafa Fahmy, said by telephone.

Hundreds of protesters were in Tahrir in the early morning, some huddled round fires to keep warm in the chill air after troops burned down tents that had been erected by activists camped there since a protest against army rule on Nov. 18.

The latest flare-up in violence has exposed divisions among Egyptians about the role of the army, which took over after the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak in February.

Activists have stayed out on the streets for weeks, angered by the army's seeming reluctance to give up power. But other Egyptians back the military as a force for badly needed stability during a difficult transition to democracy.

Army vehicles and soldiers were deployed on several roads leading into the square. Protesters and troops have clashed repeatedly, throwing rocks at each other, and some protesters have lobbed petrol bombs at army lines.

In earlier clashes, troops in riot gear chased protesters into side streets, grabbed them, beat them to the ground and battered them, a Reuters journalist said. Shots were fired in the air.

Soldiers pulled down protester tents and set them on fire, local TV footage showed. Reuters footage showed one soldier in a line of charging troops firing a shot at fleeing protesters, though whether he was using blanks or live rounds was not known.

State media gave conflicting accounts of what sparked the violence. They quoted some people as 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 follows unrest in which 42 people were killed in the week before Nov. 28, the start of a phased parliamentary poll in which Islamist parties repressed during the 30-year Mubarak era have emerged as strong front-runners.

Voting in the second round of the election process, part of a promised transition from army to civilian rule by July, passed peacefully on Wednesday and Thursday. The last run-off vote for the lower house takes place on Jan. 11.


Health Minister Fouad el-Nawawy told local television 10 people had been killed, most of them on Friday or early on Saturday, and 441 injured. State media said at least 200 people were taken to hospital.

Army-appointed Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, 78, said 30 security guards outside parliament had been hurt, and blamed the 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," he said.


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