Khalil Hamra, Associated Press
CAIRO — Thousands of demonstrators barricaded themselves in Cairo's central square with burned-out troop carriers and barbed wire Saturday and demanded the removal of the military council ruling Egypt, enfuriated after soldiers stormed their protest camp overnight, killing at least one person and injuring 71 others.
In the pre-dawn raid, hundreds of soldiers, including a highly trained parachute unit, swarmed into Tahrir Square, firing in the air and beating protesters with clubs and shocking some with electrical batons. Troops dragged away protesters, while others staggered away bleeding from beatings and gunshot wounds. Witnesses reported two killed, though the Health Ministry insisted there was only one death.
"It was like a horror movie," said Mohammed Yehia, an activist and university student from the Nile Delta who was among the protesters.
The confrontation escalates weeks of rising tensions between the pro-reform protest movement and the military leaders, a sharp contrast from the scenes two months ago when protesters hugged and kissed soldiers on tanks in Tahrir Square as President Hosni Mubarak was ousted and the military took power.
It could mark a key juncture in Egypt's upheaval. For weeks, protest leaders have been critical of the military council's handling of the post-Mubarak transition and its failure to prosecute the former president, but both sides also worked to stay on good terms. Now the overnight clashes resembled the ugliest moments of the 18-day protest movement against Mubarak — with authorities cracking down violently and protesters chanting for the leader's removal.
Soldiers detained 41 youth protesters in the raid, said human rights lawyer Mohammed al-Ansari, and they now face military tribunals for violating military bans on gatherings.
The bloodshed opened rifts in the protest movement over how to react. Some demanded protesters push ahead with the confrontation with the military, while others warned a conflict with the army — Egypt's most powerful institution — would be disastrous for the movement, saying some form of coexistence must be found.
Democracy advocate Mohammed ElBaradei, whose supporters were among those who organized the wave of anti-Mubarak protests, said in a Twitter message that "dialogue is the only alternative." He said "confidence between the people and army" must be preserved "for the sake of the nation."
Egypt's largest Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood, also warned against any attempt to cause divisions between the people and the army, calling them "one hand."
But anger flared at a press conference held at Cairo's Journalist Syndicate, where representatives of various political parties and movements tried and failed to produce a joint statement on the night's events.
Amr Hamzawy, co-founder of a new liberal political party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, called for all sides to exercise "extreme measures of restraint," warning of "organized" attempts to cause conflicts with the military.
But Khaled Abdel-Hamid, a member of the coalition of youth activists that organized the anti-Mubarak campaign, denounced a series of incidents of excessive use of force by the military against protesters.
"Now there is blood between the people and the armed forces. This happened three times, why are they not prosecuting those responsible for it," Abdel Hamid said, sparking shouting matches among some defending the military and others demanding the "killers" be put on trial.
Back in Tahrir Square, several thousand protesters, some armed with sticks and other makeshift weapons, vowed not to leave until the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, resigns. Tantawi, a Mubarak appointee, leads the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which now rules Egypt and is made up of the military's top generals, promoted to their current positions also by Mubarak.
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