CAIRO: At least two people were killed and over 170 injured in a violent crackdown on protesters camped outside the Cabinet headquarters that started before dawn Friday and continued into the night.
The Ministry of Health said at least two were killed, 105 were hospitalized and 68 of the injured were treated on site. Field doctors and activists reported several injuries allegedly caused by live ammo.
Men in civilian clothes and army uniforms were seen throwing rocks and furniture at protesters from the rooftops of the parliament buildings. Protesters have been camped outside the Cabinet headquarters, on the same street, since Nov. 25.
The ensuing exchange of rock throwing and Molotov cocktails saw protesters pushed out of Magles El-Shaab Street. Tens were arrested and severely beaten and a number of them were later released.
Lawyers said at least 14 were arrested and were interrogated at the Zeinhom prosecution.
State-TV said 32 security forces personnel were wounded, including an officer hit by birdshot it said came from the protesters.
Protesters said the confrontation started after one of them was arrested and beaten by military troops stationed inside the parliament headquarters.
“When we couldn’t find Aboudy [Ibrahim], we talked to the army, and they said they detained him and will release him soon,” said Saeid Attia, 47. “We asked the army to release him immediately, but they kept stalling.”
The protester was released an hour later, between 2:30 and 3 am.
“They released him from a back door, and when he reached the sit-in, his face was covered in his blood by the torture he suffered inside. He looked like Khaled Said’s infamous picture,” added Attia.
After he was transferred to hospital, the rest of the agitated protesters chanted against military rule.
“Chants were loud and strong, late at night, and then few rocks were thrown at the army,” said Waleed Nada, 36, who works with a civil society initiative helping injured protesters.
At that point, the few rocks thrown at the army stationed behind the gates of the buildings barely reached their target, eyewitnesses said; but the response came quickly from the soldiers, some of which threw rocks from the higher floors inside the buildings.
“What surprised me is that army replied with a pile of rocks, and a few minutes later, water hoses then birdshots in the back side of the parliament building. They were well prepared for this crackdown,” Nada added.
Both sides hurled rocks at the other, forces stationed in the parliament building used water hoses against protesters.
“They used water hoses at us … while their soldiers burnt our tents on the ground,” said Ahmed Aggour, 23. “Five people were throwing ceramic tiles, chairs, blocks of rocks and glass at us from the rooftop.”
Clashes continued into the night with troops on the ground and men hurling rocks and other objects, including furniture, from the rooftops of government building.
Protesters used mock coffins — of 43 killed in clashes last month with the police — as shields.
A field hospital was set up on Qasr El-Eini Street after the sit-in was stormed, using supplies left over from the deadly November clashes near Tahrir Square. “Our clinic on Magles El-Shaab Street got attacked with rocks and water from the army,” said Fares Nassar, one of the doctors who witnessed the crackdown.
“I’ve treated over 40 injuries; most of them are head and shoulder wounds,” Yasser Hegazy, field doctor, told Daily News Egypt in the early morning.
“We transferred few cases to hospitals, but until now we haven’t treated any live ammo or birdshot wounds,” Hegazy said, stressing that he saw soldiers firing pellets.
Protesters blamed the soldiers for starting a fire inside the premises of the parliament and refusing to put them out in spite of having water hoses. A fire truck that eventually arrived at the scene was hijacked by protesters, who later used its hoses to put out the fire.
A military official blamed protesters for the violence, telling AFP soldiers involved in the clashes had been tasked with protecting the Cabinet and did not try to break up the sit-in.
Blogger Mostafa Hussein said that at one point demonstrators managed to reach the lobby of the Cabinet offices after breaking through the front gate, before being pushed back by a large number of troops.
An AFP correspondent saw a number of bloodied protesters being carried away by comrades and a string of arrests being made.
Troops later released some of the demonstrators they had detained.
Leading activist Nour Nour, son of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour, emerged from behind the military police cordon limping and with a cut and large bruise on his forehead.
“When the military police rushed us, a girl behind me tripped up and fell,” he said.
“I stopped to help her and the soldiers beat us with sticks for about two minutes and then dragged us off into the parliament building.”
Activists have posted photos of fellow protesters with bruised faces and beating marks on their bodies.
Protesters have been camped outside the Cabinet’s offices since Nov. 25, when they branched off from larger demonstrations in nearby Tahrir Square, the nerve center of the 18 days of protests that led to Mubarak’s ouster.
They objected to the military’s appointment of a new caretaker prime minister, calling on the ruling generals to transfer power fully to a civilian government.
The military has said it will only step down once a president has been elected by the end of June next year at the end of a protracted series of phased polls. –Additional reporting by agencies