New clashes rock Egypt
Cairo - Soldiers baton-charged demonstrators
in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday a day after street clashes killed eight
people and wounded more than 300, marring the first free election most
Egyptians can remember.
The violence highlights the tensions in Egypt
10 months after a popular revolt toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
The army generals who replaced him have
angered some Egyptians by seeming reluctant to give up power. Others back the
military as a force for badly needed stability during a transition to
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, a Reuters journalist said. Shots were
fired in the air.
Television footage showed soldiers pulling
down protester tents and setting them on fire.
The army assault followed skirmishes between
protesters and troops. Some protesters had been throwing stones near fire
brigade vehicles trying to douse a burning building.
The bloodshed follows unrest in which 42
people were killed in the week before Nov. 28, the start of a phased
parliamentary poll that is empowering Islamist parties repressed during the
30-year Mubarak era, when elections were routinely rigged.
Voting in the second round of a tortuous
election process seen as part of a promised transition from army to civilian
rule by July passed off peacefully on Wednesday and Thursday.
Friday's clashes pitted thousands of
demonstrators against soldiers and plainclothes men who were seen at one point
hurling rocks from the roof of a parliament building.
The army-appointed prime minister, Kamal
al-Ganzouri, blamed the violence on protesters he accused of attacking the
cabinet and parliament buildings that security forces had to defend.
"I still say we will not confront any
peaceful protests with any kind of violence even by words," he said on
state television in his first public comments on the disturbances.
"I confirm that the army has not used
gunfire," he said, reiterating a military statement on Friday.
Ganzouri, 78, said eight people had been
killed and 125 of the 303 wounded were in hospital. Thirty security guards
outside parliament had been hurt and 18 people had gunshot wounds.
State media gave conflicting accounts of what
sparked the violence. State media cited some people saying a young man went
into the parliament compound to retrieve a miskicked football, but was
harasssed and beaten by police and parliamentary guards.
But they also cited others who said the young
man had prompted scuffles by trying to set up camp in the compound.
Among the dead was a senior official of
Egypt's Dar al-Iftah, the body that issues Islamic fatwas (edicts).
A new civilian advisory council set up to
offer policy guidance to the generals said it would resign if its
recommendations on how to solve the crisis were not heeded.
The council announced that it would suspend
its meetings until the violence stops. It also asked the army to release all
those detained in the trouble and called for prosecution of those responsible
and compensation for the victims.
Islamist and liberal politicians decried the
The Muslim Brotherhood, whose party list is
leading the election, said in a statement the military must make "a clear
and quick apology for the crime that has been committed".
Pro-democracy activists have accused the army
of trying to clear a sit-in outside the cabinet office that a small number of
protesters has maintained since the November violence.
"Even if the sit-in was not legal,
should it be dispersed with such brutality and barbarity?" asked Mohamed
ElBaradei, a presidential candidate and former UN nuclear watchdog head.
The army council is in charge until a
presidential election in June, but parliament will have a popular mandate that
the military will find hard to ignore as it oversees the transition.
"The council wants to spoil the
elections. They don't want a parliament that has popular legitimacy, unlike
them, and would challenge their authority," said Shadi Fawzy, a
pro-democracy activist. "I don't believe they will hand over power in
Additional reporting by Ashraf Fahim and
Edmund Blair; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Angus MacSwa