Egypt's riot police clash with protesters in Cairo

By Aya Batrawy

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 19 2011 11:30 a.m. MST

Protesters throw stones at Egyptian riot police during clashes in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Thousands of police clashed with protesters for control of downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday after security forces tried to stop activists from staging a long-term sit-in there. The violence took place just nine days before Egypt's first elections since the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Khalil Hamra, Associated Press

CAIRO — Egyptian riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets stormed into Cairo's Tahrir Square Saturday to dismantle a protest tent camp, setting off intense clashes that injured at least 507 people.

The scenes of protesters fighting with black-clad police forces were reminiscent of the 18-day uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February. Hundreds of protesters fought back, hurling stones and setting an armored police vehicle ablaze.

The violence took place just nine days before Egypt's first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections and as public anger rises at the slow pace of reforms and apparent attempts by Egypt's ruling generals to retain power over a future civilian government.

Witnesses said the clashes began when riot police dismantled a small tent camp set up to commemorate the hundreds of protesters killed in the uprising and attacked around 200 peaceful demonstrators who had camped in the square overnight in an attempt to restart a long-term sit-in there.

"Violence breeds violence," said Sahar Abdel-Mohsen, an engineer who joined in the protest after a call went out on Twitter urging people to come to Tahrir to defend against the police attacks. "We are tired of this and we are not leaving the square."

Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and beat protesters with batons, clearing the square at one point and pushing the fighting into surrounding side streets of downtown Cairo. State TV, quoting the Health Ministry, reported that 507 people were injured.

Abdel-Mohsen said a friend was wounded by a rubber bullet that struck his head and that she saw another protester wounded by a pellet in his neck.

Crowds swarmed an armored police truck, rocking it back and forth and setting it ablaze. Black smoke rose over the crowd.

Saturday's confrontation was one of the few since the uprising to involve police forces, which have largely stayed in the background while the military takes charge of security. There was no military presence in and around the square on Saturday.

The black-clad police were a hated symbol of Mubarak's regime.

"The people want to topple the regime," shouted enraged crowds, reviving the chant from the early days of the uprising. Crowds also screamed: "Riot police are thugs and thieves" and "Down with the Marshal," referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's military ruler.

After nightfall, protesters swarmed back into the square in the thousands, setting tires ablaze in the street and filling the area with an acrid, black smoke screen. Police appeared to retreat to surrounding areas, leaving protesters free to retake and barricade themselves inside the square. The air was still thick with stinging tear gas.

Some of the wounded had blood streaming down their faces and many had to be carried out of the square by fellow protesters to waiting ambulances.

Human rights activists accused police of excessive force.

One prominent activist, Malek Mostafa, lost his right eye from a rubber bullet, said Ghada Shahbandar, a member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.

At least four protesters were injured in the eyes as a result of what Shahbandar said were orders to target protesters' heads.

"It is a crime," she said. "They were shooting rubber bullets directly at the heads. ... I heard an officer ordering his soldiers to aim for the head."

Police arrested 18 people, state TV reported, describing the protesters as rioters.

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