Army denies trying to clear Tahrir Square

2011-11-21 14:21

Egypt’s army said today it had intervened on the streets of central Cairo, where 33 people have been killed in clashes over the past three days, to protect the Interior Ministry, not to clear demonstrators from nearby Tahrir Square.

Police and military police charged demonstrators, using tear gas and batons, in the square yesterday, the second day of violence that has flared in the run-up to the first election since President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in February.

The staggered parliamentary vote starts on November 28.

“The army did not go to Tahrir but the protesters came to the ministry. The protesters have a right to protest, but we must stand between them and the Interior Ministry,” said General Saeed Abbas, assistant to the head of Central Command.

Abbas said the Interior Ministry had officially requested protection from the army. Similar protection would be offered to protesters in Tahrir if they asked for it, he added.

“If protesters want protection from thugs in the square, we will put forces responsible for keeping danger out of the square,” he added, referring to “thugs” that protesters said were hired by opponents of the goals of the anti-Mubarak uprising.

A central morgue official said today 33 bodies of people killed in Cairo clashes had been received since Friday. Most had bullet wounds, the official said.

Heavy-handed tactics
The Interior Ministry, headquarters of a police force widely hated for the heavy-handed tactics it used during the uprising, has been a target for protesters demanding police reform.

Demonstrations erupted in Tahrir on Friday with calls for the ruling army council to hand power more swiftly to civilians. Crowds swelled in anger at the way police handled the protests.

During the January-February revolt against Mubarak, the army stationed tanks and troops around Tahrir after the police force collapsed. Troops did not try to disperse protesters, but did not prevent attacks on them by Mubarak loyalists.

Nevertheless, the military emerged with credit among many Egyptians for its role in easing Mubarak out, but it remained unclear how fast the generals would relinquish power themselves.

“The armed forces will continue in their plans for parliamentary elections and securing the vote,” Abbas said.

But he blamed protests in and around Tahrir for disrupting normal life in downtown Cairo and harming businesses there.

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