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Death toll rises in Egypt's anti-military protests

February 4, 2012 | 10:18 am

Egypt (3)

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- The death toll from violence between protesters and Egyptian security forces climbed to 12 on Saturday, but clashes eased as weary demonstrators and riot police squared off on battered streets leading to the capital’s Interior Ministry.

Protests jolted several other cities, including Alexandria and Suez, where medical officials told Egyptian media that seven demonstrators had died since renewed violence erupted nationwide Thursday. Five people were killed in Cairo as police fired tear gas and birdshot at stone-throwing protesters in skirmishes around the Interior Ministry.

The latest bloodshed followed a riot at soccer match Wednesday that killed 74 people in the coastal city of Port Said. Hooligans from that city attacked fans from a visiting Cairo team with knives and other weapons. Many Egyptians have accused the police and ruling military council of complicity in not preventing the melee.

Cairo’s Tahrir Square was calm for much of Saturday as protesters and police appeared to have reached a truce after three days of clashes that left more than 2,000 injured. The crowd was smaller than the day before; young men slept near ash fires leading to the Interior Ministry, and a man walked with a silver pail of incense to cut the lingering tang of tear gas.

By nightfall, however, protesters on the front lines rushed barricades but were driven back by fresh volleys of tear gas. The scene was similar to the battles of a day before and showed that protesters have the passion but not the muscle to force the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces from power.

"We need to go back to Jan. 25 of last year when we all came to the square united to overthrow Hosni Mubarak," said Magdy Hussein, who stood on a corner as young men marched toward the Interior Ministry. "We need to be together again. One hand. But we are divided. Too many people are saying let’s wait and see, but there is no time to wait."

The military has said it will step aside when a constitution is written and a new president is elected in June. The army has wide support, but the soccer incident and other bloodshed, including scores of deaths during protests in November and December, have led to intense criticism over its failure to keep stability during a transition to democracy.

Many activists and other Egyptians believe the military, which has been running the country since Mubarak was deposed one year ago, does not want to relinquish its authority.

"I’m not 100% sure they want to leave power," said Hussein. "They are responsible for the deaths and violence. They know what happened to Mubarak when he lost power. They could be arrested for their crimes."

For the record, 2:25 p.m. Feb. 4: A previous version of this post said that six people were killed in Cairo. The correct number is five.


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Photo: An Egyptian protester walks past riot policemen during a lull in clashes near the Interior Ministry in downtown Cairo on Saturday. Credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images