REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Dozens of people were injured Friday as Egyptian military police clashed with pro-democracy protesters in downtown Cairo.
It was the worst violence since the start of parliamentary voting last month, the country's first elections since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February. Egypt has since been under the authority of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, causing growing frustration among activists who are demanding a swift handover to civilian rule.
Witnesses said Friday's violence began before dawn when a protester who had been taking part in a sit-in outside Egypt’s Cabinet was detained and severely beaten.
“One of our fellow activists was called for and arrested by military police," said Yasser Waleed, who was taking part in the sit-in. "Later on we found out that they released him in a state nearing death. He was taken to [a] hospital and came back in a very bad condition.”
Images posted online showed the man, identified as Aboudi Ibrahim, with his face badly bruised, his eyes swollen shut and his head wrapped in bandages. The news infuriated the protesters, some of whom hurled stones and gasoline bombs at military police.
Troops moved in to break up the sit-in, shooting blank rounds and setting fire to the tents where scores of protesters had been camped out for three weeks, witnesses said.
The protesters retreated into a road leading to Tahrir Square, which was the center of the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak. Troops wielding truncheons repeatedly charged the crowd, which grew to hundreds as the day wore on, witnesses said. Rocks were also thrown at the protesters by unidentified assailants on the roof of the Cabinet headquarters.
"It's the same old story," said Ahmed Galal, who works at a mobile phone shop. "We come for a peaceful sit-in and eventually they forcibly disperse it . Only a few days ago, the prime minister said that no peaceful protester will be harmed and now we have this ... That's why we don't trust either the government or SCAF anymore. This ruling army has to go now."
At least 36 people were injured in the clashes, the Ministry of Health said. Activists put the toll much higher. They also said about 20 demonstrators were briefly detained and beaten. There was no immediate comment from military authorities.
More than 40 people were killed during days of unrest ahead of the parliamentary election, but the violence had dissipated as voting got underway. Egyptians poured back to polling stations this week for a second round of voting. The third and final round is scheduled for January, and a presidential poll is to be held next year.
-- Amro Hassan
Photo: A female activist is arrested near Egypt's Cabinet building on Friday. Credit: Associated Press