Cairo Erupts in Second Day of Violent Clashes

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Al Jazeera English

Cairo Erupts in Second Day of Violent Clashes

Egypt's army launches assault on Tahrir Square, clearing the area, after anti-military protests continue in the capital.

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Egyptian soldiers with batons charged into Tahrir Square, beating protesters and burning tents on the second day of violent clashes and anti-military demonstrations in the capital.

The renewed fighting in Cairo on Saturday came as Egypt's health ministry reported nine people were killed and more than 350 others injured since Friday when soldiers stormed an anti-military protest camp outside the parliament building, a short distance from Tahrir.

Soldiers stormed into Tahrir Square on Saturday and cleared the area as thick black smoke filled the skies following the eruption of a fire in the area around Egypt's upper house of parliament.

"[These are] very nasty and such ugly scenes that we have witnessed for ourselves in downtown Cairo," said Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from near the scene.

"This is real violence that we have seen against the protesters, unarmed protesters being beaten by the military police and the soldiers."

Tadros said the situation had calmed down over the last few hours: "Those protesters that had left the main square after the storming by the military are now dispersing and are not trying anymore to get back in the square.

"We have a situation where the military police and the military soldiers are securing Tahrir Square themselves. Also on the periphery, they are trying to make sure that no one who wants to get back in gets back in. That seems to be their main objective right now, to get people out and to make sure that the whole area does not become re-occupied, as they put it," our correspondent added.

'Counter-revolution'

Egypt's prime minister, Kamal el-Ganzouri, addressed the violence in a news conference earlier on Saturday, branding the protesters as counter-revolutionaries, and saying the fighting was an attack on the country's revolution.

"This is not a revolution, but a counter-revolution," he said. "Those who are in Tahrir Square are not the youth of the revolution."

He added that his government would not confront peaceful demonstrations with any force, but he said protesters "threw rocks and destroyed everything they came across".

Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, who was at the press conference, said the "prime minister's promises have fallen flat, after the escalation of violence after his message".

The violence highlights tensions in Egypt 10 months after a popular revolt toppled President Hosni Mubarak. The army generals who replaced him have angered some Egyptians by seeming reluctant to give up power.

The army assault on Saturday followed skirmishes between protesters and troops. A fire destroyed archives in a building
next to Tahrir, including historic documents dating back over two centuries.

An official blamed petrol bombs for starting the blaze, the state news agency MENA reported.

An army official said in a statement troops targeted thugs not protesters after shots were fired at soldiers and petrol
bombs set the archive building ablaze, MENA reported.

Ugly scenes

The fighting, Cairo's first outbreak of violence since the start of elections on November 28, began after images were published online of the badly bruised face of an activist, who said he had been detained by military police at a sit-in outside cabinet the previous day and beaten.

The news infuriated protesters, who set cars alight and threw stones at security forces. 

Security forces responded by firing shots in the air before storming the camp, beating demonstrators with sticks and hurling chunks of concrete from the roof of the parliament building.

"Very ugly scenes witnessed here throughout the day, including scenes of men in uniform perched on the rooftops of buildings, throwing whatever they can lay their hands on on protesters, including sheets of glass, bottles, rocks and at one point even furniture", our correspondent Rageh reported on Friday.

Protesters have been occupying the area in front of the cabinet office for more than two weeks, preventing Ganzouri and his cabinet from meeting there. They are demanding that the country's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) immediately cede authority to a civilian government.

The military council issued a statement blaming Friday's violence on the protesters, saying that the clashes were part of a conspiracy to derail the country's elections process, which is ongoing.

It denied that tear gas or live ammunition had been used, and said the issue would be transferred to the Egyptian prosecutor's office to be investigated. 

The clashes came as Egypt ended its second round of voting in a long and complicated election process that began on November 28. Voting took place in parts of greater Cairo, Ismailiya and Suez in the east, Aswan in the south and in the Nile Delta regions in the north. 

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