CAIRO // Violence raged in the administrative heart of Cairo on Saturday as troops and police deployed in force after clashes with protesters against continued military rule left eight people dead.
Smoke billowed over Tahrir Square, the iconic focus of the protest movement that overthrew veteran president Hosni Mubarak in February, after two nearby government offices caught fire, an AFP correspondent said.
Demonstrators pelted security forces with rocks and petrol bombs as they fought running battles in the streets around the square and an adjacent bridge across the River Nile.
Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri raised tensions by accusing the protesters of being counter-revolutionaries and denying that security forces had opened fire as they broke up a sit-in outside the nearby cabinet office launched against his nomination last month.
Troops and police moved to retake control of the area around the office early on Saturday, erecting razor-wire barriers on access roads.
But after a few hours of calm, new clashes erupted between demonstrators and security forces, overshadowing the count in the second phase of the first general election since Mubarak's ouster.
Friday's fighting, which raged from dawn well into the night, was the bloodiest since five days of protests in November killed more than 40 people just ahead of the first round of the phased parliamentary election.
Adel Adawi, an aide to the health minister, told state news agency MENA on Saturday that the casualty toll had reached eight dead and 299 wounded.
One of the dead was Emad Effat, a senior cleric in the government-run Dar al-Ifta, the official interpreter of Islamic law, the institution said in a statement published by MENA.
Dar al-Ifta "considers him a martyr, with God the exalted," the statement said.
Footage posted on Youtube showed the bloodied cleric lying prone on the street before protesters carried him away.
"The people demand the execution of the field marshal," the demonstrators chanted in reference to Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took over following Mubarak's ouster.
Tantawi, in a gesture apparently aimed at mollifying the protesters, ordered the treatment of all civilians wounded at military hospitals, which are usually better equipped than civilian counterparts, state television reported.
Pictures of a military policeman grabbing a women by her hair, and of another looming over a sobbing elderly lady with his truncheon quickly circulated on the social networking site Twitter, enraging activists.
But in a press conference on Saturday, Prime Minister Ganzuri accused the protesters of being counter-revolutionaries and denied that security forces had opened fire.
"Those who are in Tahrir Square are not the youth of the revolution," Ganzuri said.
"This is not a revolution, but a counter-revolution," added the man who first served as premier under Mubarak from 1996 to 1999.
He said 18 people had been wounded by gunfire on Friday and, without elaborating, blamed "infiltrators," who he said "do not want the best for Egypt."
It was the SCAF's nomination of Ganzuri as prime minister on November 27 that prompted the protesters to launch their sit-in outside the cabinet's offices. They continued it after his interim government was sworn in on December 7.
The demonstrators want the military to hand power immediately to a civilian administration with full powers.
The military has said it will only step down once a president has been elected by the end of June in the final stage of a protracted transition.
The count continued on Saturday in the second stage of elections for the lower house of parliament. A third stage next month will be followed by a similar three-phase election to the upper house before the presidential vote.
As in the first phase last month, Islamist parties had a commanding lead over the liberals in the second stage of the general election, according to initial results cited by state media.
The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party condemned "the assault on protesters and the attempt to disperse them."
Leading secularist Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog chief turned dissident and presidential candidate, condemned what he said was a "savage" attempt to disperse the sit-in.