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Protesters clash with knife-wielding men in Cairo

By Sarah El Deeb

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, July 23 2011 3:25 p.m. MDT

Fire bombs are thrown during clashes between protesters and armed men at the Abbasiyah area in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, July 23, 2011. Groups of men armed with knives and sticks attacked thousands of protesters trying to march to the headquarters of Egypt's military rulers Saturday, setting off fierce street clashes and leaving dozens injured, most lightly. Security fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Khalil Hamra, Associated Press

CAIRO — Groups of men armed with knives and sticks attacked thousands of protesters trying to march to the headquarters of Egypt's military rulers Saturday, setting off fierce street clashes and leaving more than 100 injured, most lightly. Security fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The clashes come as tensions mount between the military council that took control of the country after a popular uprising ousted ex-President Hosni Mubarak and activists who want them to move faster in bringing former regime officials to justice and setting a date for the transition to civilian rule.

The military has appeared impatient with the pressure, accusing activists of treason, warning protesters against "harming national interests" and calling on "honorable" Egyptians to confront actions that disrupt a return to normal life.

An estimated 10,000 people set out from downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square but were stopped from reaching the military headquarters in the eastern Abbasiyah neighborhood by a line of army barricades. Along the way, they chanted slogans against the military council's delay in implementing their demands.

The march coincided with the 59th anniversary of the 1952 military coup that toppled the monarchy and brought a series of military leaders to office, ending with Mubarak.

"Down with the ruler of the military," the protesters chanted.

Bands of men armed with knives and sticks set upon them from side roads and from in front of the military barricades, setting off pitched street battles in which both sides threw punches and hurled rocks.

Gunfire was heard, but it was unclear who was shooting. Some firebombs were thrown, igniting large blazes in the middle of the street and near buildings.

The identity of the attackers could not immediately be determined. Similar groups of men have tried to break up other rallies, and Mubarak's regime often used hired thugs to attack protesters. Some witnesses said they might have been residents or shopkeepers angry at the loss of business as a result of the protests. Others said local residents threw water bottles to the protesters and helped them reach safety.

At one point, a man perched over a female protester, squeezing her against the wall where she was taking cover from the flying rocks. The man cursed her and accused her of being hired to cause chaos.

The man shouted: "Damn your revolution!"

An Associated Press reporter saw a firebomb flying from inside a garden lining a side street, landing at a distance from the protesters. The attackers then charged toward the protesters and accused them of throwing the flaming bottle.

"We are extremely angry. These are Egyptians beating us," said protester Selma Abou el-Dahab.

A medical official said more than 140 people were hospitalized with wounds from thrown rocks and falling in the stampede. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press.

The violence broke out following a televised speech by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling military council, who attempted to diffuse the tension by praising the youth who led the uprising that toppled Mubarak. The speech was to commemorate the 1952 coup anniversary.

Many protesters have grown distrustful of the military rulers who assumed control of the country on Feb. 11. A few hundred have been camped out in Tahrir Square since July 8 to pressure the military to bring those accused of killing nearly 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising to trial.

So far, only one low-ranking policeman has been charged in absentia for killing protesters.

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