Death Toll Rises From Clashes in Cairo

Egyptian protesters were chased by soldiers over the Asr el-Nile bridge leading out of Tahrir Square, in Cairo on Saturday.

Published: December 17, 2011

CAIRO — The death toll from renewed violence in Egypt’s capital rose overnight as clashes between Egyptian soldiers and protesters entered a second day on Saturday.

According to media reports, soldiers swept into Tahrir Square here on Saturday, chasing protesters and beating them with sticks.

Early Saturday, according to The Associated Press, hundreds of protesters hurled stones at security forces who sealed off the streets around Parliament with barbed wire and large concrete blocks. Soldiers on rooftops pelted the crowds below with stones, prompting many of the protesters to pick up helmets, satellite dishes or sheets of metal to try to shield themselves.

Reuters reported that protesters fled into side streets to escape the troops in riot gear, who grabbed people and battered them repeatedly even after they had been beaten to the ground.

Stones, dirt and shattered glass littered the streets downtown, while flames leapt out of the windows of a two-story building set ablaze near Parliament, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the sky, according to media reports. Soldiers set fire to tents inside the square, The A.P. reported, and swept through buildings where television crews were filming from and confiscated their equipment and briefly detained journalists.

In footage filmed by Reuters one soldier in a line of charging troops drew a pistol and fired a shot at retreating protesters.

The clashes began in the center of Cairo on Friday and at vote-counting centers around the country, preceding a decision by a new civilian advisory council to suspend its operations. That move, embarrassing to the country’s military rulers, was done in protest over the military’s deadly but ineffective treatment of peaceful demonstrators.

Election monitors said the violence threatened to undermine the credibility of Egypt’s first parliamentary election since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak 10 months ago.

At the vote-counting centers, the clashes began after polls closed late Thursday, when soldiers beat up judges and other civilians trying to enter the centers. A spokesman for a judges’ association said hundreds of judges supervising the elections had threatened to quit in protest and warned that the episodes could compromise many of the returns.

Violence erupted here in the capital on Friday after military police officers tried to break up a small sit-in outside the cabinet building. In an uncanny replay of clashes last month, the military’s heavy-handed tactics against a small number of protesters drew thousands of others into the streets. And the military’s tactics — hurling broken tiles and even file cabinets at the crowd from the roof of a Parliament building — appeared to do more to provoke than dispel the crowd.

By Saturday morning at least eight people had been killed, at least seven others suffered bullet wounds and more than 250 were injured, according to the Health Ministry. One of those killed was a respected Muslim religious scholar, Emad Effat. The military police beat and briefly detained about 20 people from the scene of the sit-in, including human rights activists and a journalist from Al Jazeera. And, using batons and an electric prod, they also beat up a newly elected member of Parliament, Ziad el-Elaimy, who with two other new lawmakers filed a police report against the top military official, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

“The Parliament can’t protect you from us,” a military police officer who was assaulting Mr. Elaimy told him, according to his account on the Web site of the state newspaper Al Ahram.

The advisory council’s rebuke represents a major setback for the ruling generals, in part because they had planned to use it to put a civilian face on their power and to provide a counterweight to the new Parliament. Many civilian politicians, led by the Islamists now dominating the early election returns, are insisting that Parliament should take over control of the interim government as well as the selection of a committee to write a new Constitution. But the generals have insisted that they retain full control of the interim government, and they have sought to carve out permanent institutional autonomy and political powers under the new charter.

In announcing its suspension, the civilian advisory council said it would not meet again until the ruling generals end the violence, apologize to protesters and authorize an independent investigation to hold accountable those responsible for the violence against judges and civilians. Leaders of the advisory council said 8 of its roughly 30 members had resigned in protest before it decided to suspend its operations.

“If what’s happening is intentional and planned, then it’s a conspiracy that I will not take part in,” one member of the council, the political scientist Moataz Billah Abdel Fattah, wrote on Facebook, explaining his resignation and urging others to follow.

“And if it wasn’t intentional or planned, then it means that we’re facing broken/disjointed institutions with no knowledge of how to manage crises, and consequently I won’t be able to correct their behavior no matter what I did,” he continued. “Allah is there for you, Egypt.”

As a street fight raged downtown, early reports from the second phase of the three-part election for the lower house of Parliament confirmed the trend: the Muslim Brotherhood’s moderate Islamist party led the voting, followed by the ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis and then the Egyptian Bloc, an alliance of liberal and leftist parties.


Categories: Egypt, International, Police Brutality, Workers Struggle

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