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Police, protestors fight in Egypt for control over Tahrir Square

Sunday November 20, 2011 09:38:23 PM, IANS

Cairo: 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 the area.

“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 other options.”

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 belongings.

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.

'Single demand'
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 elected government.

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 oversight.

"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 Tahrir square.

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.

Escalation expected
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 armed forces."

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 slogans.

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 them.

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 specific date.







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