CAIRO // Deadly clashes in Tahrir Square yesterday between youth protesters and soldiers have sharpened criticism of Egypt’s interim military government.
Several hundred soldiers wielding batons and shooting in the air charged a group of protesters at the centre of the square shortly
after the start of a 2am curfew, according to witnesses and videos posted online.
Medical sources told media that the incident had left at least two people dead and 15 injured. Egypt’s ministry of health told statetelevision that at least one person was dead and 71 were injured.
The scene at Tahrir Square yesterday recalled the violent clashes that took place there in early February. The charred remains of three vehicles lay in the street, coils of barbed wire blocked each entrance to the square, and onlookers crowded around dark stains in the pavement that appeared to be blood.
When the military charged, the protesters were protecting a group of between 20 and 30 army officers who had joined the protests in violation of their orders, said Ahmed Said, 27, the manager of a property brokerage who said he had spent the night in the square.
“We shouted ‘peaceful, peaceful’, but they charged—they wanted to disperse the sit-in and take the army officers who were with us,” said Mr Said, who clutched a rifle shell casing that he said he had found on the ground.
Mr Said said he saw soldiers fire at the legs of several protesters with live ammunition, and said he was worried for 20 friends who had been at the protest during the melee and had disappeared.
The incident had changed Mr Said’s opinion of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is “completely against the revolution”, he said.
The military, which said in a statement that it was acting against “outlaws”, quickly cleared the area, but several thousand angered protesters had reassembled by yesterday afternoon
and vowed to stay into last night.
The new round of violence, coming after widely circulated allegations that military officers abused female protester detainees last month and used force against smaller demonstrators on several occasions, appears to have eroded confidence in the military among the youth protesters who spearheaded resistance to former president Hosni Mubarak.
“Now there is blood between the people and the army,” youth protest leader Khaled Abdulhamid told a hastily organised press conference.
“Such incidents have been repeated many times, and those responsible should be held accountable.”
The Sixth of April Youth, one of the country’s largest youth protest groups, said in a statement that the incident “is the greatest evidence for the military council’s inability to understand the nature
of dealing with civilians”, and called for a new “presidential council” made up of civilians and a military representative to take over the affairs of the country. The military’s Supreme Council has ruled since Mr Mubarak’s resignation on February 11.
A military statement relayed by MENA, the official news agency, claimed that soldiers had “confronted acts of rioting and implemented a curfew” without any loss of life. The Supreme Council was due to hold a press conference late yesterday to update reporters.