Egyptian military police beat a protester wearing an Islamic veil during… (Ahmed Ali, AP )
Reporting from Cairo — One person was killed and more than 130 people were injured, including 32 military police officers, in a clash Friday with pro-democracy protesters in downtown Cairo, the Egyptian Health Ministry said. Activists placed the death toll at three.
It was the worst violence since the start of parliamentary voting last month, the country's first elections after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February. Since his toppling, Egypt has been under the authority of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a source of growing frustration among activists who are demanding a swift transition to civilian rule.
Witnesses said Friday's violence began before dawn when a protester who had been taking part in a sit-in outside Egypt's Cabinet headquarters was detained and severely beaten.
"One of our fellow activists was called for and arrested by military police," said Yasser Waleed, who was taking part in the sit-in. "Later on, we found out that they released him in a state nearing death. He was taken to a hospital and came back in a very bad condition."
Images posted online showed the man, identified as Aboudi Ibrahim, with his face badly bruised, his eyes swollen shut and his head wrapped in bandages. The news infuriated the protesters, some of whom hurled stones and gasoline bombs at military police.
Troops moved in to break up the sit-in, shooting blank rounds and setting fire to the tents where scores of protesters had been camped for three weeks, witnesses said.
The protesters retreated into a street leading to Tahrir Square, the center of the popular uprising that brought down Mubarak. Troops wielding truncheons repeatedly charged the crowd, which grew to hundreds as the day wore on, witnesses said. Rocks were thrown at the protesters by unidentified assailants on the roof of the Cabinet building.
"It's the same old story," said Ahmed Galal, who works at a cellphone shop. "We come for a peaceful sit-in and eventually they forcibly disperse it. Only a few days ago, the prime minister said that no peaceful protester would be harmed, and now we have this.... That's why we don't trust either the government or [the military council] anymore. This ruling army has to go now."
Local news reports and medical sources said that at least 18 of those injured had gunshot wounds. Activists said that about 20 demonstrators were briefly detained and beaten. There was no immediate comment from military authorities.
By Friday night, military police had reduced their presence in the area, but sporadic clashes continued between protesters and unidentified pro-government demonstrators, who threw rocks and gasoline bombs from the roof of the Cabinet building. According to state news media, some residents of the area also confronted protesters in an attempt to disperse the sit-in.
Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri declined to comment on the violence. But two members of a recently formed advisory council, created by the military to provide advice on the new constitution, quit in protest.
Presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei condemned the events and the use of force in comments on his Twitter account.
More than 40 people were killed during unrest before the parliamentary elections, but the violence had dissipated as voting got underway. A third and final round is scheduled for January, and a presidential election is to be held next year.
Hassan is a news assistant in The Times' Cairo bureau.