Clinton speaks out as Cairo violence enters its fifth day

2011-12-20 09:08

Clashes between Egyptian security forces and protesters demanding an end to military rule entered a fifth day today, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the beating of women as a “disgrace”.

Riot police and protesters hurled stones at each other, and police fired shots to disperse demonstrators through the night and into the morning, witnesses said, in violence that has left at least 12 people dead since Friday.

The ruling military council yesterday denied it had given orders to use force against protesters, but admitted that troops had beaten a veiled woman after having ripped her clothes to reveal her bra, sparking nationwide outrage.

Footage circulating on social networking sites showed army troops beating protesters, sometimes leaving their bodies motionless on the ground, but it is the beating of women that has enraged the country.

“The forces that violate the honour (of women),” read a headline in the independent daily Al-Tahrir above a picture of a soldier grabbing a female protester by her hair as another raised a club over her.

An impassioned Clinton yesterday accused post-revolution Egypt of failing its women as she denounced the stripping and beating of the female protester as “shocking”.

In unusually strong language, the US secretary of state accused Egypt’s new leaders of mistreatment of women both on the street and in politics since the revolt nearly a year ago that overthrew veteran leader Hosni Mubarak.

“This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonours the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people,” Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University.

Yesterday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that took over in February denied it had given orders to use force against protesters and said a plot had been uncovered to burn down Parliament.

Supreme Council of the Armed Forces General Adel Emara, interrupting a live news conference, said he had “received a call now to say that a plot was uncovered today to burn Parliament and there are now large crowds in Tahrir Square ready to implement the plan”.

AFP correspondents in Tahrir said that at the time of Emara’s statements there were no signs of tension either in the square or in surrounding streets, where a historic building containing national archives was destroyed and protesters were trying to save any surviving documents.

Emara said the army “does not use force against protesters” but qualified those in Tahrir as “people seeking to destroy the state... not the honourable people of the January 25 revolution”.

The picture and YouTube footage that sent shockwaves across the country and beyond shows the woman sprawled on the ground, troops towering over her.

One is seen kicking her, and later she appears unconscious, her stomach bared and her bra showing.

“Yes, this happened. But you have to look at the circumstances around (the incident),” Emara told reporters. “We are investigating it, we have nothing to hide.”

The comments came as human rights groups and dissidents slammed retired army general Abdelmoneim Kato – an adviser to the military – for saying some in Tahrir were “street kids who deserve to be thrown into Hitler’s incinerators”.

Presidential hopeful and former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei said such statements showed “a deranged and criminal state of mind”.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information denounced Kato’s comments, saying they “incite hatred and justify violence against citizens”.

A group of newly elected members of Parliament yesterday announced a sit-in outside the Cairo Supreme Court, demanding an immediate end to the violence against protesters and an investigation.

The violence drew international criticism.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon accused Egyptian security forces of using “excessive” violence against protesters.

Ban is “very concerned by the resurgence of violence”, said his spokesperson Martin Nesirky. Clinton urged “Egyptian security forces to respect and protect the universal rights of all Egyptians”.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the violence was “inconsistent with the democratic process in which Egypt is now engaged”.

And rights watchdog Amnesty International urged arms suppliers to halt transfers to Egyptian forces.

“It can no longer be considered acceptable to supply the Egyptian army with the types of weaponry, munitions and other equipment that are being used to help carry out the brutal acts we have seen used against protesters,” said Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

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