Early Saturday morning, two people were killed and dozens injured in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after several thousand riot police, uniformed soldiers and military police officers stormed the square, the focal point of the uprising in Egypt. At 3am, soldiers backed by a line of tanks descended upon the square, firing continual barrages into the air with automatic weapons. The crackdown on peaceful protesters was the most brutal since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak on February 11th.
Here is a video of Tahrir Square the morning after the protests:
While Egypt’s military has come to be seen as assuming a caretaker role, criticism about its slow prosecution of former officials has risen. Tens of thousands had protested on Friday in Tahrir Square to demand that former members of Mubarak’s government and Mubarak himself and his family be put on trial, and that corrupt officials be ‘purged’ from the transitional government.
According to the New York Times, The military, which is currently running Egypt, denied that anyone had been killed; it referred to the protesters as ‘thugs’ and imposed a curfew from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. The Health Ministry reported that one person had been killed and 71 wounded.
Witnesses describe being beaten by clubs, fists and kicks; the military also used live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets on the protesters. An unknown number of protesters were also dragged away and thrown into trucks, and some were said to be detained and beaten by the famed Egyptian Museum.
As MSNBC notes, the clashes were in deep contrast to the ‘warmth’ expressed by protesters to the military in the 18 days following Mubarak’s fall. On Saturday, some who have supported the protest movement seemed to be seeking to prevent the two sides from further confrontations:
Democracy advocate Mohammed ElBaradei, whose supporters were among those who organized the anti-Mubarak wave of protests, said in a Twitter message, “enduring confidence between the people and the army is a red line which we have to preserve for the sake of the nation. Dialogue is the only alternative.”
But he voiced demands similar to those of the Tahrir protesters and called for a “quick response to the demands of the revolution.”
The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, as well, condemned any effort to divide the people and the army, calling them “one hand.” But it noted that “there are many people’s demands that have not been met until now.”
Later on Saturday, protesters returned to the square, armed with sticks and makeshift weapons. To chants of “The people want the fall of the field marshal” and “Tantawi is Mubarak and Mubarak is Tantawi,” they vowed not to leave until the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, resigns. As MSNBC reports, Tantawi, who was appointed by Mubarak appointee, presently leads the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces; the council is made up of the military’s top generals and is now ruling Egypt.
Protesters are also demanding the creation of a new presidential council to lead Egypt, trials for those behind the killings of protesters since Jan. 25 uprising, and a faster timetable for the prosecution of “heads of the corruption starting with the ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his family.” Mubarak and his family are currently under house arrest at a presidential palace in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, with their assets frozen.
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