x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

At least one person killed, 170 wounded in Cairo clashes

Scenes of men standing on the edge of the roof of the cabinet building, hurling rocks at the protesters on the street below, inspired thousands of people to come out and support the demonstrations.

Egyptian protesters gather outside the parliament building during clashes with soldiers on Friday.
Egyptian protesters gather outside the parliament building during clashes with soldiers on Friday.

CAIRO // At least one person was killed in downtown Cairo yesterday when violence erupted after police allegedly mistreated a protester in front of the cabinet building, ending a period of calm that had come alongside the first two rounds of parliamentary elections.

The number of dead was uncertain. A health ministry official said one protester was shot dead but witnesses told the Associated Press two people were killed.

More than 170 people were injured, according to health department officials, who said 105 people were still in hospital.

Clashes that began in the early morning grew throughout the day, culminating last night with a street battle between protesters on Qasr Al Aini Street and unidentified men inside the cabinet building who threw huge pieces of rock on to the crowds below. Military police also fought with the protesters.

A review of several victims in a field hospital on El Sheikh Youssif Street showed mostly injuries from rocks, including cracked bones and severely bleeding wounds. Egyptian state television said that 32 security forces officers were wounded in the clashes, including an allegation that one officer was hit by shotgun pellets fired by the protesters.

Scenes of men standing on the edge of the roof of the cabinet building, throwing rocks at the protesters on the street below, inspired thousands of people to come out and support the demonstrations.

Protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, while chanting for the military rulers to cede power to a new civilian government.

"Who knows if our army is with us or not," said Sameera Hashem, 19, a law student, who was making a peace sign with her hand to the unidentified men standing on the roof of the cabinet building. One man, wearing a striped sweater, gestured a sign of victory and appeared to preen and flex his biceps, infuriating the crowds.

Ms Hashem said that the calm that came with the elections was proving deceptive. "They don't want us to pay attention to what they are doing," she said. "They want the old regime back in power."

By the evening, the situation had threatened to undermine a fragile sense of order that had been restored only on the first day of voting on November 28. The second of three rounds of elections for the lower house finished on Thursday. Initial results reported by the state media indicated Islamist parties leading, similar to the first round. The daily Al-Ahram reported a close race between the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafist movement's Al Nour.

Egypt has seen flare-ups of violence since Hosni Mubarak resigned on Feb 11 under huge pressure from street protests. Since then, the country has become divided between secular political movements and Islamists, and the reputation of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has come under heavy attack.

The fighting yesterday was the worst violence since five days of battles on Mohammed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in November that led to more than 40 deaths and thousands of injuries. The same chants calling for the resignation of the military rulers rung out amid the pandemonium.

Protesters said the fighting began when the police severely beat a man on Thursday night or Friday morning, but it was not yet clear how the attack took place. After an initial confrontation with protesters over the man's treatment, police torched several tents that made up part of the sit-in.

Qasr Al Aini Street, normally a busy transportation artery that leads into Tahrir Square, was shut down to traffic and covered with a layer of shattered rocks. Several fires inside rooms of the cabinet building and on the street filled the air with smoke.

Hundreds of activists have refused to leave the street in front of the building in protest against the appointment of Kamal El Ganzouri, a former Mubarak appointee, as prime minister last month. Mr El Ganzouri replaced Essam Sharaf, who resigned along with his cabinet after the violence in Tahrir Square in the week before the elections.

But tensions were rising, especially after a reported 60 people suffered from food poisoning after an unidentified woman distributed food among the tents of the protesters on Wednesday. Many activists have argued that the poisoning was an effort to end the sit-in.

Passers-by yesterday looked upon the raging battle with curiosity from the side streets, but several said they were disappointed that the security situation had collapsed despite the feeling that the parliamentary elections in the last several weeks had been the fairest and freest in living memory.

"There are some forces, some people who don't want Egypt to have stability," said Mahmoud Ahmed, 40, a tour guide. "It has to be the old regime. Who else would do this?"

bhope@thenational.ae