Police, protesters clash in Egypt's Tahrir Square, 3 dead

Regime's effort to clear Cairo square of activists calling for ruling military council to hand power to civilians intensifies; security forces wielding batons, tear gas charge protesters behind riot trucks, 192 wounded.

Police Tahrir 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Police Tahrir 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Police backed by the army used batons and teargas on Sunday to charge protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding Eygpt's ruling generals swiftly hand power to civilians, in some of the worst violence since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
With little more than a week to go before a parliamentary election that starts the process of transition, the state news agency reported three dead in a second day of violence on Sunday and 192 wounded. Medical sources said four died on Sunday.
The latest deaths take the overall toll to at least five with more than 1,000 injured.
"The people want the toppling of the regime," thousands of protesters chanted before and after the charge by police backed by military officers who had stayed on the sidelines till then.
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The demonstrators accuse the army of seeking to retain power from behind scenes as it oversees the transition, which could see the military remain in control until presidential elections which may not happen until late 2012 or early 2013.
Generals deny any such intention and the cabinet reiterated on Sunday that violence would not delay the staggered parliamentary elections that start on Nov. 28.
The security forces, who moved in as darkness fell, beat some protesters with batons. One group of demonstrators formed a line and bowed in the traditional Muslim prayer, television images showed. Most held their line as the police moved in.
"The army sent soldiers to Tahrir to help state security disperse the protesters. They are beating us hard," said Ragab Shemiekhy, who has been in Tahrir throughout the latest protest.
A Reuters witness saw the dead body of a 28-year-old man on Sunday evening in a makeshift clinic on the edge of Tahrir Square. It was not clear how he had died or if the death was one of those reported by medical sources.
Army police detained dozens of people, a witness said. After initially fleeing, protesters poured back into the square.
"The military council are shutting their ears, they're ignoring us, they don't give a damn about us, and we're going to stay occupying the streets and demanding our rights. Eventually justice will prevail," said Amal El Mohandes, 31.
Egypt's benchmark index tumbled about 2.5 percent on Sunday as investors worried about the outcome of the clashes.
Islamists distance themselves
The protest that began on Friday was led by Islamists. But it has since been largely driven by many of the same youthful activists who ended Mubarak's 30-year rule, putting national pride over religion. Some Islamists, including of the biggest group, the Muslim Brotherhood, have since withdrawn.
"Those in the square to do not belong to any party. This is a new scene," Ahmed Abo Barka of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party told Al Jazeera. "They want to block the route before the Egyptian people who want their election."
The Brotherhood, banned under Mubarak, had tended to take a softer line towards the military than some other groups, which analysts say is to ensure elections go ahead and prevent any return to the kind of repression is suffered in the past.
A row has erupted between political groups and the army-picked cabinet over ground rules for drafting the constitution that could leave the military free of civilian control. Parliament is to pick the assembly to draw up the constitution.
Many Egyptians are angry that nine months after ousting Mubarak, the army remains in charge and police are still using the same heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators.
"We are on the brink of danger. Those asking for the government to fall are asking for the state to fall," Egyptian army General Mohsen Fangary had told a television channel early on Sunday.
He said the election would go ahead on time and the army and Interior Ministry would maintain security. He also said the army, in line with a timetable previously announced, aimed to return to barracks by the end of 2012. Presidential elections could be held by then.