Violence raged in the administrative heart of Cairo yesterday as troops and police deployed in force after clashes with protesters against continued military rule left eight people dead.
Smoke billowed over Tahrir Square, the iconic focus of the protest movement that overthrew former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February, after two nearby government offices caught fire, a correspondent said.
Demonstrators pelted security forces with rocks and Molotov cocktails as they fought running battles in the streets around the square and an adjacent bridge across the River Nile.
Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri raised tensions by accusing the protesters of being counterrevolutionaries and denying that security forces had opened fire as they broke up a sit-in outside the nearby Cabinet office launched against his nomination last month.
Troops and police moved to retake control of the area around the office early yesterday, erecting razorwire barriers on access roads.
However, after a few hours of calm, new clashes erupted between demonstrators and security forces, overshadowing the count in the second phase of the first general election since Mubarak’s ouster.
Friday’s fighting, which raged from dawn well into the night, was the bloodiest since five days of protests last month killed more than 40 people just ahead of the first round of the phased parliamentary election.
Adel Adawi, an aide to the health minister, told state news agency MENA yesterday that the casualty toll had reached eight dead and 299 wounded.
“The people demand the execution of the field marshal,” the demonstrators chanted in reference to Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took over following Mubarak’s ouster.
Tantawi, in a gesture apparently aimed at mollifying the protesters, ordered the treatment of all civilians wounded at military hospitals, which are usually better equipped than civilian counterparts, state television reported.
Pictures of a military policeman grabbing a woman by her hair and of another looming over a sobbing elderly lady with his baton quickly circulated on the social networking site Twitter, enraging activists.
However, in a press conference yesterday, Ganzouri accused the protesters of being counterrevolutionaries and denied that security forces had opened fire.
“Those who are in Tahrir Square are not the youth of the revolution,” Ganzouri said.
“This is not a revolution, but a counterrevolution,” added the man who first served as prime minister under Mubarak from 1996 to 1999.
He said 18 people had been wounded by gunfire on Friday and, without elaborating, blamed “infiltrators,” who he said “do not want the best for Egypt.”
It was the SCAF’s nomination of Ganzuri as prime minister on Nov. 27 that prompted the protesters to launch their sit-in outside the Cabinet’s offices. They continued it after his interim government was sworn in on Wednesday last week.
The demonstrators want the military to hand power immediately to a civilian administration with full powers.