Friday 23 June 2017

Dozens die as chaos rules in Egypt

Protesters run from tear gas fired by riot police during clashes in Cairo
Protesters run from tear gas fired by riot police during clashes in Cairo

Alastair Beach

THE Egyptian cabinet offered its resignation last night as deadly riots continued into the evening, threatening the viability of next week's elections and leaving at least 33 people dead.

Stone-throwing youths faced down riot police outside the American University of Cairo near Tahrir Square, as hundreds of protesters shouted chants calling for the downfall of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's de facto leader.



As midnight approached last night, around 20,000 people packed Tahrir Square, and thousands more milled around in surrounding streets. The protesters won at least a partial victory after the civilian cabinet offered to resign, which followed the exit of Culture Minister Emad Abu Ghazi. A group of diplomats issued a statement condemning the way the latest protests have been handled.



In a late-night statement, the ruling military council urged calm and called for crisis talks with political forces to find a way forward, but did not say whether it would accept the resignation of the cabinet, tendered on Sunday. The council voiced its "deep regret for the victims in these painful incidents", state news agency Mena said.



Last night's trouble came after hours of bloody confrontations, which continued throughout the early hours of yesterday morning. Volunteer doctors working in makeshift field hospitals close to Tahrir Square struggled to cope as hundreds of badly injured activists were rushed back from the front lines.



One medic, Dr Haytham Magdy, said he had seen a protester whose face had been run over by a vehicle. "I think it must have been a military car," he said. "The bone in his face was badly broken."



At one point, the police appeared to fire live rounds in the direction of protesters, sending chunks of brick spinning off a block of apartments. A group of five activists could then be seen rushing down a dark back-alley carrying a limp middle-aged man, a stream of blood pouring from the left side of his mouth.



Dr Magdy also said he had seen one dead body, of a person who appeared to have been hit by a live bullet directly through the spleen. The authorities have denied using live ammunition.



"All we're asking for is our freedom," said Hassan Hani, a 20-year-old who was demonstrating in the square, the scene of violent clashes earlier in the year that eventually led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.



The chain of violence began on Saturday morning when a small group of a few dozen activists were arrested and beaten after they spent the night in Tahrir Square. Disturbing footage has since been uploaded on to the internet showing troops and police violently beating a man who appeared to have already been unconscious. Another showed an apparently lifeless protester being dragged across the square and dumped next to a pile of other bodies.



Activists and NGOs have for months been accusing the military of abusing its position by using military courts to try civilians and prevaricating over the date of a presidential election.



An Amnesty report released yesterday claimed that Egypt's ruling generals had retrenched dictatorial power for their own ends and were guilty of "crushing" the February revolution.



Doubts and confusion are also swirling about the viability of parliamentary elections, which the ruling Military Council is still insisting will take place next week.



Some political parties have already suspended campaigning and are calling for a postponement. Shaheer George, from the liberal Freedom Egypt Party, said the poll should be delayed and called for the resignation of Egypt's Interior and Media ministers.

Independent News Service

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