Egypt: Tahrir Square violence marrs closing of polls
Nearly 80 people were wounded on Tuesday when youths threw petrol bombs, fired guns and threw rocks in clashes near Cairo's Tahrir Square, where protesters have been demonstrating against military rule in Egypt.
Leading reformist politician Mohamed ElBaradei said "thugs" had attacked the protesters whose sit-in demonstration against the generals is now in its 11th day. Twenty seven of the wounded were taken to hospital, the official MENA news agency reported.
The violence disrupted what had been two largely peaceful days of voting in the first phase of a parliamentary election, the first since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.
An organiser of the protest said the trouble started when an unidentified group had tried to enter the square. State media said the clashes had involved protesters and street vendors but this could not be independently verified.
In criticism of the military-run government, ElBaradei wrote on his twitter feed: "Thugs are now attacking the protesters in Tahrir. A regime that cannot protect its citizens is a regime that has failed in performing its basic function."
Thugs, has often been used to describe violent pro-Mubarak elements who disrupted elections in the rigged polls of the past, and who used camels in the final days of the Mubarak era to try and intimidate protesters in Tahrir Square.
Live television footage showed petrol bombs arching through the night sky in the direction of the square and exploding on the road by Cairo's landmark Egyptian Museum and not far from the protesters' encampment.
A witness heard at least 10 shots as the trouble flared at one end of the square, where protesters have been urging the immediate departure of the army generals who replaced Mubarak in February.
The square had been calm for several days.
Last week, roads around Tahrir were the scene for some of the worst violence since Mubarak was toppled: 42 people killed in Cairo and elsewhere in violence triggered by protests against the generals.
The protesters say the generals are trying to manipulate their position to preserve power and privilege. The generals say they will hand power to an elected president by mid-2012.
Mohammed al-Saeed, an organiser of the protest, told Egyptian state television the protesters had organised volunteer security groups "to protect people and families in the square" from the youths.
People parked cars on one of the main bridges spanning the Nile to watch as armed youths chased others in violent scenes beneath them.
It was unclear who threw the petrol bombs and who fired the shots and what motivated them, but state television said the clashes had initially involved street vendors.
In an earlier sign of tensions in the square, scuffles had flared between dozens of street vendors who have been selling goods to the protesters camped there and stalls were damaged.