Tara Todras-Whitehill, Associated Press
CAIRO — International criticism of Egypt's military rulers mounted Wednesday as police clashed for a fifth day with protesters demanding the generals relinquish power immediately. A rights group raised the death toll for the wave of violence to at least 38.
The United Nations strongly condemned authorities for what it deemed an excessive use of force. Germany, one of Egypt's top trading partners, called for a quick transfer of power to a civilian government. The United States and the U.N. secretary general have already expressed their concern over the use of violence against mostly peaceful protesters.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, deplored the role of Egypt's security forces in attempting to suppress protesters.
"Some of the images coming out of Tahrir, including the brutal beating of already subdued protesters, are deeply shocking, as are the reports of unarmed protesters being shot in the head," Pillay said. "There should be a prompt, impartial and independent investigation, and accountability for those found responsible for the abuses that have taken place should be ensured."
She said the actions of the military and police are enflaming the situation, prompting more people to join the protests.
"The more they see fellow protesters being carted away in ambulances, the more determined and energized they become."
Clashes resumed for a fifth day despite a promise by the head of the ruling military council on Tuesday to speed up a presidential election to the first half of next year, a concession swiftly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square. The military previously floated late next year or early 2013 as the likely date for the vote, the last step in the process of transferring power to a civilian government.
The clashes are the longest spate of uninterrupted violence since the 18-day uprising that toppled the former regime in February.
The standoff at Tahrir and in other major cities such as Alexandria and Assiut has deepened the country's economic and security crisis less than a week before the first parliamentary elections since the ouster of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi tried to defuse tensions with his address late Tuesday, but he did not set a date for handing authority to a civilian government.
The Tahrir crowd, along with protesters in a string of other cities, want Tantawi to step down immediately in favor of an interim civilian administration to run the nation's affairs until a new parliament and president are elected.
The government offered more concessions on Wednesday, ordering the release of 312 protesters detained over the past days and instructing civilian prosecutors to take over a probe the military started into the death of 27 people, mostly Christians, in a protest on Oct. 9. The army is accused of involvement in the killings.
The military also denied that its troops around Tahrir Square used tear gas or fired at protesters, an assertion that runs against numerous witness accounts that say troops deployed outside the Interior Ministry were firing tear gas at protesters.
Street battles have been heaviest around the heavily fortified Interior Ministry, located on a side street that leads to the iconic square that was the epicenter of the uprising earlier this year. Police and army troops are using tear gas and rubber bullets to keep the protesters from storming the ministry, a sprawling complex that has for long been associated with the hated police and Mubarak's former regime.
The protesters, who have withstood tear gas and beatings, say they do not want to storm the ministry but are trying to keep the police and army from moving on nearby Tahrir Square.
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