Hundreds of Egyptian soldiers swept into Cairo's Tahrir Square yesterday, chasing protesters and beating them to the ground with sticks and tossing journalists' TV cameras off balconies in the second day of a violent crackdown on anti-military protesters that has left eight dead and hundreds injured.
The violent, chaotic scenes have brought to the fore the simmering tensions between the ruling military council that took power after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak and activists demanding the generals transfer power immediately to civilians.
The clashes also serve as a near repeat of the deadly street fighting between youth protesters and security forces in November that lasted for days and left more than 40 dead.
Early yesterday, hundreds of protesters hurled stones at security forces who sealed off the streets around parliament with barbed wire and large concrete blocks. Soldiers on rooftops pelted the crowds below with stones, prompting many of the protesters to pick up helmets, satellite dishes or sheets of metal to try to shield themselves.
Stones, dirt and shattered glass littered the streets downtown, while flames leapt out of the windows of a two-storey building set ablaze near parliament, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the sky.
Witnesses said soldiers wielding batons and dressed in riot gear then chased protesters through the streets and into Tahrir Square, which served as the epicentre of the uprising that toppled Mr Mubarak in February.
Footage broadcast on the private CBC television network showed soldiers beating two protesters with sticks, repeatedly stomping on the head of one, before leaving the motionless bodies on the pavement.
Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri defended the security forces' response. While he acknowledged that people had died from gunshot wounds, he denied the military and the police had fired at protesters.
Instead, he said "a group came from the back and fired at protesters" and that his government is for "the salvation of the revolution".