CAIRO — Egyptian security forces clashed for a fourth straight day on Monday with protesters demanding an end to military rule as the death toll rose to 12, despite strong international criticism of the use of force.
Two people were killed in dawn fighting in Cairo's administrative heart as security forces swooped to remove the protesters, health ministry sources said.
The clashes quickly subsided before several hundred people turned out in Tahrir Square -- the epicentre of protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak -- for the funeral of a protester killed in the violence.
But the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that took power in February denied it had given orders to use force against protesters and said a plot had been uncovered to burn down parliament.
SCAF member General Adel Emara, interrupting a live news conference, said he had "received a call now to say that a plot was uncovered today to burn parliament and there are now large crowds in Tahrir Square ready to implement the plan."
AFP reporters in Tahrir said there were no signs of tension there or on the square's outskirts, where a historic building containing national archives was destroyed and protesters were trying to save any surviving documents.
Emara said the army "does not use force against protesters" but qualified those in Tahrir as "people seeking to destroy the state... not the honourable people of the January 25 revolution."
But Emara did admit that troops had beaten a veiled woman after having ripped her clothes to reveal her bra, sparking nationwide outrage.
In the picture and YouTube footage of the incident, the woman is sprawled on the ground, helmeted troops towering over her. One is seen kicking her, and later she appears unconscious, her stomach bared and her bra showing.
"Yes, this happened. But you have to look at the circumstances around (the incident)," Emara told reporters.
"We are investigating it, we have nothing to hide," he said.
Other pictures circulating on social media networks that have enraged protesters include one of a military policeman looming over a sobbing elderly woman with his truncheon.
More footage showed army troops beating two protesters, a man and woman, before leaving them motionless on the ground.
The violence drew international criticism.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon accused Egyptian security forces of using "excessive" violence against protesters.
Ban is "very concerned by the resurgence of violence," said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Ban's concern.
"I urge Egyptian security forces to respect and protect the universal rights of all Egyptians, including the rights to peaceful free expression and assembly," Clinton said.
A health ministry source said two people were killed on Monday, bringing the death toll from four days of fighting to 12.
In the early morning raid on Tahrir and its outskirts, demonstrators held their ground and several dozens milled about the square, brandishing banners denouncing the SCAF, AFP correspondents said.
One man held up a bloodied white shirt, which had reportedly been worn by the person killed at dawn.
Security forces built another cement wall on a street adjacent to Tahrir near the Institute of Egypt, the historic building housing priceless archives, many of which were destroyed in the latest violence when it was burned.
The institute for the advancement of scientific research was founded in 1798 during Napoleon Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt, and contained more than 200,000 precious documents.
The street battles that erupted on Friday raged outside the parliament building and the headquarters of the government.
The violence overshadowed the count in the first post-revolution vote that shows Islamists in the lead.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party (FJP) said it won 39 percent of votes in party lists, while the Al-Nur party -- which represents the hardline brand of Salafi Islam -- claimed more than 30 percent.
The military, which took power when Mubarak was ousted, has decided on a complex electoral system in which voters cast ballots for party lists, that will make up two thirds of the lower house of parliament, and for individual candidates for the remaining third.
"The FJP is definitely number one, we have come second," Al-Nur spokesman Mohammed Nur told AFP.