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2 killed, 600 hurt in Egypt protests

The clashes are among the most violent since the overthrow of Mubarak, with police using tear gas and rubber bullets on crowds frustrated over the military's powerful role in the country.

November 20, 2011|By Amro Hassan, Los Angeles Times
  • Egyptian riot police clash with protesters at Tahrir Square in Cairo.
Egyptian riot police clash with protesters at Tahrir Square in Cairo. (Mohamed Abd el Ghany, Reuters )

Reporting from Cairo — One protester was killed and more than 600 others were injured Saturday in clashes with riot police in Tahrir Square, a fierce battle of tear gas, rubber bullets and stones that was one of the most violent since the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak nine months ago.

At least one other protester was killed in Alexandria, where demonstrations and clashes also took place, wire reports said.

Another eruption of anger at the ruling military council before next week's parliamentary elections, the fighting broke out when security forces moved to evacuate about 200 protesters who had staged a sit-in late Friday. Earlier in the day, demonstrators held a massive rally against plans by the ruling generals to increase the military's power in a new constitution.

Hundreds more demonstrators marched on the square early Saturday as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to stop them from reaching the nearby Interior Ministry. By nightfall, as a police vehicle was set ablaze, several thousand remained in the square after security units pulled back.

"The people want the downfall of the field marshal," chanted some of the protesters, referring to the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Others directed their slogans at the Interior Ministry, calling riot police forces "thugs and thieves."

The clashes came as the military-backed government appeared to make concessions on the drafting of the constitution, a main objective of protesters.

Deputy Prime Minister Ali Selmi announced amendments for the constitutional guidelines that would limit the military's role to preserving the country's unity. The provision originally stated that the military would be the guardian of "constitutional legitimacy," a phrase many interpreted to mean the generals would hold sway over the parliament and president.

The amendments also stated that the military would "abide by the constitutional and legislative regulations" like any other government agency.

The violence Saturday underscored the growing frustration with the military, which has repeatedly delayed handing power to a civilian government.

The police response prompted condemnation from political forces and human rights advocates.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights issued a statement calling the violence "a grave development in the course of events in Egypt, as it gives the impression that nothing has changed since the Jan. 25 revolution in terms of police's treatment of peaceful protesters."

The police said 40 officers were injured. An unnamed Interior Ministry official was quoted by state TV as saying that security forces had practiced self-control when dealing with protesters.

The parliamentary elections will be carried out in three stages, starting Nov. 28 and ending Jan. 10.

Hassan is a special correspondent.

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