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Protests erupt across Egypt urging military leaders to step down

February 3, 2012 |  9:28 am

REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Young men wearing surgical masks and hurling stones rushed police barricades Friday against the pop, pop of tear gas rounds that laid a gauze of white smoke over the street as protesters retreated with the injured draped in their arms.

The protests erupting in the Egyptian capital and other cities reportedly left three people dead between Thursday and Friday. One demonstrator reportedly was killed by bird shot in Cairo and two by live ammunition in Suez as a mob attempted to storm a police station in that coastal city. The deaths came as cities erupted in clashes following a soccer riot this week that killed 74 people in Port Said.

The soccer violence renewed the energy of a protest movement that in recent weeks had lost momentum as Egyptians elected a new parliament and turned to pressing economic problems. The country’s military-backed government called for calm, but both it and the ruling generals have been under pressure to step down.

Thousands of demonstrators streamed into Tahrir Square while shock troops of young men and boys hustled down side streets toward the well-fortified Interior Ministry. The pavement was littered with barbed wire, stones and ash fires. The police waited with tear gas canisters and truncheons.

Ambulances sped through crowds as more men, waving flags and splotching yeast on the faces to cut the sting of the gas, made another run toward barricades and black-clad riot police in front of the Interior Ministry. Surge and retreat has become a dangerous dance of revolt, full of fury but unable, so far, to break the grip of the nation’s military leaders.

“We marched toward the Interior Ministry to pray for the martyrs,” said Naser Lotfy, his eyes watering, his nose jammed with tissue. “We kept chanting, ‘peaceful, peaceful,’ so the police wouldn’t beat us, but then we felt the gas and the police striking us. But we’re not leaving.”

Other protesters, marching to the square from different parts of the city, called for ending the provocative surges toward the Interior Ministry.  

“If we keep this up in the street more people will die because the tear gas is heavy,” said Khaled Zaki, a lawyer. “The solution is not here, it's political. We need the interior minister to step down, a reconciliation government and the election of a president.”

Ibrahim Mohammed, an engineer, said: “What good would it do to break into the Interior Ministry? We should go back to Tahrir Square where we belong.”


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Photo: An Egyptian police officer takes aim at protesters during clashes near the Interior Ministry in Cairo on Friday. Credit: Khalil Hamra / Associated Press