Over 140 hurt as Egyptians rally against military rulers

Thousands march to Defense Ministry calling for reforms and chanting ‘peaceful, peaceful.’

Egypt Tahrir Square 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt Tahrir Square 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At least 143 people were injured in the Egyptian capital this weekend when thousands of demonstrators fought opponents with stones on their march to the Defense Ministry to urge their military rulers to speed up reforms, witnesses said.
They said most of the injuries occurred Saturday when civilians, believed to be thugs, hurled barrages of stones and firebombs at protesters, who fought back with stones torn up from pavements.
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Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper estimated 143 people were hurt in the clashes, while state-run Al-Ahram on Sunday put the figure as high as 296, quoting a health official.
Military police, armed with Tasers and batons, fired in the air to stop the demonstrators from approaching the ministry.
A Reuters witness said tear gas fumes were wafting outside the area as military helicopters circled overhead.
Meanwhile, Al-Masry Al- Youm reported the Muslim Brotherhood would participate in this week’s “Friday of Stability” rally. Organizers intend for the demonstration, called by the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, to be a show of force against drafting the country’s new constitution before parliamentary elections set for September.
Fearing a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the next government, secularist and liberal groups are demanding the constitution be drafted first. They call for a document containing a set of supra-constitutional principles that secures Egypt as a civil state, while Islamist groups are hoping to uphold the results of the referendum, which retain the prior constitution’s second article identifying Islam as the main source of legislation.
This weekend’s clashes broke out after the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, promised in a televised speech to push ahead with elections to transform the Arab world’s most populous nation into a democracy.
Young demonstrators were angered by clashes between military police and protesters in a number of cities on Friday.
The army denied using force against them.
Thousands of protesters marched from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the January 25 protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak, towards the ministry chanting “peaceful, peaceful.”
“The people want to bring down the field marshal,” they chanted as they headed for the ministry, snarling traffic.
Tantawi, whose military council took over after Mubarak’s overthrow, was seen leaving the area before protesters arrived.
It was the 15th day of demonstrations in Tahrir Square and other squares across the country to back demands for more freedom for the civilian government, led by Essam Sharaf, an end to military trials and a timetable the completion of reforms.
Prime Minister Sharaf reshuffled his cabinet last week and promised to speed up trials and political reforms.
“The government is fully keen on implementing the demands of the people for freedom, democracy and social justice, and it will work on translating those goals,” Sharaf said.
He was echoing promises of reform and a transition to democracy that were delivered earlier by Tantawi, in a speech to mark the anniversary of the 1952 revolution, which overthrew King Farouk in a bloodless coup.
“We are committed to pressing ahead in turning Egypt into a modern civilian state,” Tantawi said.
“We are moving forward on the path to entrenching democracy that upholds freedoms and the rights of citizens through free and fair elections,” he added in a prerecorded speech, his first address to the public since Mubarak was ousted.
“The decisive period in our people’s history requires concerted efforts from all Egyptians to confront the urgent challenges facing us that cannot be dealt with by hesitation or semi-solutions,” Tantawi said, citing efforts to limit the economic damage caused by the uprising.
The clashes on Saturday broke out after civilians threw rocks from rooftops in adjacent buildings. Many in the crowd were thought by protesters to be thugs but some residents of the Abbassiya district were fearful protests in their neighborhood were obstructing business and normalcy.
State media said the civilians fighting with the demonstrators were from “people’s committees” protecting the neighborhood, and the army had maintained all self-restraint, blaming the violence on protesters.
The ruling military council has recently issued a series of statements warning of groups manipulating the revolution and seeking to drive a wedge between the armed forces and the people.
In the latest accusation, the council denied the authorities used force against demonstrators on Friday and accused the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the main groups behind the uprising that toppled Mubarak, of creating divisions.
April 6 described the statement as “misleading allegations.”
“We will be the last to leave Tahrir Square, either alive with our heads held high after triumphantly achieving the demands of the Egyptian people or as martyrs for the sake of God and the nation,” the group said.