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EGYPT: Military uses force to break up Tahrir Square sit-in

August 1, 2011 | 10:10 am

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Tanks and riot police swept into Tahrir Square, tearing down tents and chasing away protesters in a dramatic ending to a three-week sit-in by demonstrators who had disrupted traffic in downtown Cairo and exasperated the nation's ruling military council.

The storming of the square Monday afternoon, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, started when 10 tanks broke through barb-wired fences held up by protesters at each of the square's entrances. The tanks were followed by hundreds of military police officers, who scattered several hundred protesters camping in the square’s central garden.

Protesters briefly resisted by hurling stones at police officers, but their last stand was short-lived as they were outnumbered by officers, who used electric prods and fired blank ammunition. Military forces cleared away all banners and stages and Tahrir was opened to traffic for the first time since July 8.

A number of protesters were detained. The interim government said in a statement that a “number of thugs were captured” without specifying any figures. No injuries were reported.

The eviction came one day after 26 political parties and activist groups decided to suspend their sit-in during Ramadan. The core of protesters left on Monday were relatives of martyrs killed during the 18-day uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak on Feb.11.

Protesters in Tahrir were calling on the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces to “fulfill the remainder of the revolution’s goals,” including swift trials for members of Mubarak’s toppled regime, higher minimum wages, purging ministries of officials who served under Mubarak and ending military trials for civilians arrested since Feb. 11.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had earlier responded to the sit-in by reshuffling his Cabinet, appointing new governors and firing more than 600 police officers. Sharaf similarly announced that the trials of Mubarak and his former ministers would be broadcast on state television on Wednesday.

While Mubarak is facing charges of financial corruption and ordering the shooting of protesters during the Jan. 25 revolution, many Egyptians fear the 83-year-old former leader's medical condition might be used as a ploy to avoid a court appearance. Since suffering a heart problem during interrogations in April, Mubarak has been held in custody at a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, where he is reported to suffer from depression.

Sunday hospital officials said Mubarak was still in stable condition and should be able to attend his hearing.

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-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Military police advance on Tahrir Square to disperse protesters. Credit: Associated Press

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