Military police battled demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday, the third day of clashes that have killed 10 people and injured hundreds, casting a shadow over the first free election most Egyptians can remember.
Soldiers advanced from barriers around the square shortly before dawn, scuffling with protesters, activists said. A witness heard gunfire and saw protesters, brandishing big sticks, running from the scene of the latest flare-up.
“It’s cat-and-mouse. The army raid and retreat,” a protester in the square, Mostafa Fahmy, said by telephone.
Hundreds of protesters were in Tahrir in the early morning, some huddled round fires to keep warm in the chill air after troops burned down tents that had been erected by activists camped there since a protest against army rule on Nov. 18.
The latest flare up in violence has exposed divisions among Egyptians about the role of the army, which took over after the ousting of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February.
Activists have stayed out on the streets for weeks, angered by the army’s seeming reluctance to give up power. However, other Egyptians back the military as a force for badly needed stability during a difficult transition to democracy.
Army vehicles and soldiers were deployed on several roads leading into the square. Protesters and troops have clashed repeatedly, throwing rocks at each other, and some protesters have lobbed Molotov cocktails at army lines.
In earlier clashes, troops in riot gear chased protesters into side streets, grabbed them, beat them to the ground and battered them, a journalist said. Shots were fired in the air.
Soldiers pulled down protester tents and set them on fire, local TV footage showed. Footage showed one soldier in a line of charging troops firing a shot at fleeing protesters, though whether he was using blanks or live rounds was not known.
State media gave conflicting accounts of what sparked the violence. They quoted some people as saying a man went into the parliament compound to retrieve a miskicked soccer ball, but was harassed and beaten by police and guards. Others said the man had prompted scuffles by trying to set up camp in the compound.