An Egyptian army soldier with the special forces stands guard at the gate… (Ahmed Ali, Associated Press )
Reporting from Cairo — Egypt's ruling military council apologized Saturday after military police used truncheons and electric shock batons against late-night protesters in Tahrir Square, birthplace of the country's nascent democracy.
About 25 people were arrested and others were treated for injuries after the soldiers chased several hundred protesters from the downtown crossroads shortly after midnight, witnesses and the army said.
The episode was the first direct confrontation between the protesters who toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11 and the military authorities who have governed since. The army remains widely popular here, and senior commanders quickly blamed subordinates for acting without authority.
In an announcement, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it regretted what it called "unintentional confrontations between the military police and the youth of the revolution."
The council emphasized that it "did not and will not issue orders to attack the youth, and all measures will be taken to ensure this will not happen again."
The clash occurred after thousands of people blocked the square all day Friday to demand the dismissal of several officials from the old regime, including Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, who still hold positions of power.
Shortly after midnight, officers ordered the dwindling crowd to leave the center of the square. The military has sporadically enforced a curfew from midnight to 6 a.m.
Abdul Hamid, 47, an accountant, said that he was hit in the head and that his wife was hit, fell to the ground, and then hit again. He still seemed stunned.
"We can't believe this," he said. "The army must protect us, not hit us. Why are they doing this?"
After the clash, he said, he took his wife home and then rushed back to the square at 6 a.m., dressed in a jacket and tie.
"I will never move from here now," he vowed, sitting on a blanket in the dirt.
Another protester, Ahmad Mahmoud, 62, a retired businessman, said the use of force made him doubt whether the army would support or allow democratic reforms.
"They are playing a dirty role now," he said. "They are trying to absorb our revolution. And afterward, they will do what they want."