Egyptian security forces are battling with thousands of protesters
in downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square as demonstrations against the
country's interim military leaders continue to escalate.
Thick clouds of tear gas filled the air on Sunday as military
police armed with batons and shields charged into the square,
firing rubber bullets and forcibly clearing the area of
protesters. The assault sparked panic among the estimated 5,000
protesters, many of whom had remained in Tahrir since early on
Saturday, Al Jazeera reported today.
A short time affter the offensive, however, a surge of protesters
returned to the square, overwhelming security forces and retaking
“This is what the Egyptian army calls protecting the revolution,”
Salma Said, a democracy activist, told Al Jazeera. “We’ve lost so
many people in the last nine months. We want Field Marshall
Tantawi gone. We’re going to keep fighting, we don’t have any
Before the protesters regrouped in the plaza, military police
torched tents in the middle of the square, and witnesses reported
security forces burning protesters’ motorcycles and other
When security forces arrived, hundreds of people fled into the
many alleyways surrounding the square, banging on the doors of
nearby hotels and apartments in a bid to seek shelter from the
ensuing security forces.
Sunday's police action follows two days of clashes in downtown
Cairo with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that
the ruling military announce a date to hand over power to an
Two people were killed and hundreds wounded in similar violence on
Saturday in the Egyptian capital and other major cities.
Police began firing tear gas canisters and protesters threw rocks
on Sunday morning as protesters, many chanting "freedom,
freedom,'' pelted the police with rocks.
The street battles are escalating tensions eight days before the
start of the country's first parliamentary elections since Hosni
Mubarak, the former president, was toppled in February.
Essam Sharraf, Egypt's interim prime minister, held an emergency
cabinet meeting to discuss the unrest.
The fresh protests were triggered by plans put forward by the
military government to enshrine a political role for the armed
forces in the next constitution and shield it from civilian
"Although there has been no statement made by the military council
to whether these elections will be put off or not, many here are
sceptical as to how they can take place with such little
security," said Al Jazeera's Jamal ElShayyal, reporting form
The violence also reflects the rising public anger over the slow
pace of promised reforms.
"We have a single demand: The marshal must step down and be
replaced by a civilian council,'' said protester Ahmed Hani,
referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's interim
military ruler and Mubarak's longtime defence
"The violence yesterday showed us that Mubarak is still in power,"
said Hani, who was wounded in the forehead by a rubber bullet.
Although the military have not made a formal statement in response
to the protests, Major General Mohsen el-Fangari, a member of the
military council, said protesters' calls for change ahead of the
election were a threat to the
"What is the point of being in Tahrir?" he said, speaking by phone
to a private TV channel. "What is the point of this strike, of the
million marches? Aren't there legal channels to pursue demands in
a way that won't impact Egypt ... internationally? The aim of what
is going on is to shake the backbone of the state, which is the
Rocks, shattered glass and other detritus covered most of Tahrir
early on Sunday. Several hundred protesters were camping out on
the lawn of the square's traffic island and chanting anti-military
All roads leading to the square were blocked by protesters who ran
identity card checks on anyone attempting to enter the space.
Sunday's clashes, which were mostly on a road leading from Tahrir
to the Interior Ministry, appeared likely to grow with protesters
using social networking sites to call on other Egyptians to join
Solidarity rallies also erupted in larger Egyptian cities, like
Suez and the northern city of Alexandria, where hundreds of
demonstrators threw stones at the main security headquarters
setting a police car on fire.
The military, which took over from Mubarak, has repeatedly pledged
to hand over power to an elected government but has yet to set a