Egyptian troops, protesters clash in Cairo (AP) Associated Press) By MAGGIE MICHAEL CAIRO, EGYPT 05/04/12 6:08 pm ET)
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CAIRO – Egyptian troops blasted protesters with water cannons, tear
gas and live ammunition, trying to prevent them from marching on the
Defense Ministry Friday in clashes that left one soldier dead and
scores of people injured just three weeks ahead of presidential
The fierce street battles raised fears of a new cycle of violence
surrounding the upcoming vote to replace Hosni Mubarak, who was
ousted more than a year ago. For the first time in Egypt´s chaotic
transition, hard-line Islamists, rather than secular forces, were at
the forefront of the confrontation with the military rulers who have
been accused of trying to cling to power.
The military council imposed an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew on the area
surrounding the Defense Ministry, which has emerged as a flashpoint
for the protesters´ anger after nine people were killed on Wednesday
in clashes between unidentified assailants and protesters who mainly
comprised supporters of a disqualified Islamist presidential
The violence has thrown the campaign for the May 23-24 elections into
turmoil, with two front-runners and several other candidates
temporarily suspending their campaigns to protest the military´s
handling of the situation.
Thousands of demonstrators massed in Cairo´s downtown Tahrir Square —
the epicenter of last year´s popular uprising — earlier Friday for
what has become a weekly rally to demand that the generals speed up a
transition to civilian rule. Protesters included the powerful Muslim
Brotherhood and ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis but also
revolutionary youth who spearheaded the mass rallies that ousted
Despite official warnings against gathering, groups marched to the
district of Abbasiyah to join a sit-in outside the Defense Ministry
initially held by supporters of Hazem Abu Ismail. A lawyer-turned-
preacher, hard-line Abu Ismail was disqualified from the race because
his late mother allegedly held dual Egyptian-American citizenship,
making him ineligible under election laws. He has encouraged his
followers to take to the streets. "We are in the face of a plot to
abort the revolution," his spokesman Gamal Saber told the Al-Jazeera
network on Friday.
Violence appeared to have ensued when protesters tried to cut through
barbed wire barricading them from troops blocking access to the road
that leads up to the ministry. Some protesters chanted "peaceful,
peaceful" to deter fighting, but the clashes began after troops fired
water cannons at protesters and hurled stones to keep them from
The protesters took shelter behind metal sheets snatched from a
nearby construction site and hurled back stones. Others climbed the
roof of a nearby university and showered soldiers with rocks from
above. The troops then opened up with heavy volleys of tear gas that
pushed the demonstrators back. Protesters sat fire to garbage to
raise smoke to lessen the impact of the gas.
Troops snatched one protester and beat him with metal sticks, tearing
his clothes and leaving his back bloody — a scene aired live on state
TV. Soldiers with body shield and red helmets also were seen carrying
a soldier who collapsed with his nose bleeding.
After several hours, troops swept through the protesters´ camp, set
tents on fire and drove them out of the area. Armored vehicles
cordoned off several streets and occupied the main square and
surrounding areas, including a big mosque. At least two subway
stations were closed and military helicopters were seen circling the
site of clashes.
The Health Ministry said one soldier was killed and at least 373
people were injured.
More than 170 were arrested by the military, according to a security
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn´t
authorized to release the information. Several journalists, including
a Belgian photographer, also were detained or injured as they were
caught up in the chaos.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday that at least 18
journalists have been assaulted, injured, or arrested in the past
three days while covering Cairo clashes. CPJ also called on the
ruling military to "identify the attackers and bring them to justice
immediately, as well as to release journalists in custody."
Maj. Gen. Mukhtar al-Mullah, a member of the military council, warned
late Friday in a televised statement that those involved in or
instigating violence would be arrested. The daily Al-Ahram quoted an
unidentified military official as saying 50 men who were allegedly
hiding inside a mosque with automatic weapons were among those
Violence also spread the port city of Suez where anti-military
protesters pelted the building of the governor´s office with stones.
Seven were arrested.
Anger at the ruling military council, which took power after
Mubarak´s ouster, has risen across the political spectrum as the
generals are accused of steering a messy transition, using oppressive
measures and maneuvering to maintain a degree of power even after the
presidential election and handover of authority. The Islamists have
joined in after the disqualification of two heavyweight Islamists,
Abu Ismail and Muslim Brotherhood chief strategist Khairat el-Shater,
whose group has been frustrated that its domination of parliament —
where it holds nearly half the seats — has not translated into
The generals promised Thursday to hand over power after one of the 13
remaining candidates wins an outright victory, but they also warned
against protests near the Defense Ministry and said soldiers have the
right to defend their positions.
Friday´s clashes centered around the pro-Abu Ismail sit-in that has
been maintained for a week in a square several blocks away from the
heavily guarded Defense Ministry. The Salafis have been involved in
past fighting but for the first time were in the front lines,
signaling a dangerous escalation in tensions.
The more politically savvy Brotherhood called for the march to
Abbasiyah on Thursday but stayed in Tahrir on Friday. Some liberal
and leftist groups joined the Salafis in Abbasiyah on Friday to show
solidarity after Wednesday´s deaths but most of them later withdrew.
"The farce in Abbasiyah showed that this is a battle that does not
serve any interest for the Egyptian people," said the leftist group
April 6. "We decided to withdraw and not participate in the shedding
of Egyptian blood."
Others accused Abu Ismail of dragging the country to confrontation
with the military, reflecting divisions over whether to support the
Salafis who oppose the military but also are known to include Islamic
"The man has believed his own lies and is now land-mining Egypt to
serve his own interests," wrote Ibrahim Eissa, a chief editor of the
independent Tahrir daily.
The circumstances surrounding the deadly clashes on Wednesday that
launched the current round of tensions remain unclear as protesters
at the sit-in and Abbasiyah residents traded allegations.
Protesters said that the assailants were hired thugs or plainclothes
police and troops, similar to past attacks. They also said the
military allowed Wednesday´s attack to take place, noting troops
nearby did nothing to stop fighting for hours.
But residents and activists said some of the protesters were armed
and provoked the situation.
Alaa Abdel-Fatah, a prominent democracy activist, claimed in several
tweets that protesters had weapons.
"The revolutionaries also fired live ammunition in the middle of
residential streets," he tweeted on Wednesday. "We have battled with
the wrong people, and we have threatened innocent souls secure in
their houses." (© 2012 The Associated Press 05/04/12)
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