CAIRO: Clashes between protesters and central security forces continued early Wednesday morning in and around Tahrir Square with dozens of injuries reported.
Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests that toppled president Hosni Mubarak, was sealed off as police continued to fire tear gas into the early hours of Wednesday and a thick white cloud hung over the square. Numbers of protesters swelled from few hundred to few thousand.
According to eyewitnesses the clashes started earlier on Tuesday when police tried to clear a sit-in at the state-TV building, which included families of the martyrs of the Jan. 25 revolution.
Later in the day, a memorial service planned for the families ended in clashes. The ministry of interior said in a statement on Tuesday that “people who claimed to be families of martyrs … tried to break into the theater” in which the service was held.
Eyewitnesses said police showed up and attacked the families outside the Balloon Theater in Agouza.
The protest reportedly moved to the state-TV building and then to the ministry of interior in Downtown Cairo. Rumor had it that two demonstrators wounded earlier in the day had been taken. It was not immediately clear what sparked the violence outside the ministry, but eventually protesters were hurling stones and security forces firing volleys of tear gas and blocking off streets around the building.
The clashes then shifted to nearby Tahrir Square — the epicenter of Egypt’s revolution. In a sight unseen since the early days of the uprising, lines of central security troops in riot gear sealed off the main streets leading into the square, while dozens of security vehicles were parked in side streets.
The government response shocked many of the protesters, who compared it to the heavy-handed tactics used by the security forces before Mubarak’s fall.
“The security forces’ violence is the same,” said Al Maataz Hassan, an engineer. “They accuse the people of being thugs, then crackdown. It’s the same mentality as before the revolution.”
The clashes went on throughout the night with both police and protesters advancing and retreating in battles throughout the scene. Both sides hurled stones at each other.
A Daily News Egypt reporter on the scene said many injuries were seen. Volunteers on motorcycles were carrying the injured around Tahrir square from the site of clashes to field hospitals. The injuries ranged from wounds resulting from thrown rocks or teargas canisters or asphyxiation with teargas.
The official news agency MENA said 26 police conscripts were injured.
During the day, witnesses told AFP that buses unloaded young men armed with sticks and knives, accusing remnants of the old regime of stirring chaos.
When protests erupted on January 25 to demand Mubarak’s ouster, the veteran leader’s loyalists used hired thugs to beat back protesters.
Tuesday’s clashes erupted just hours after a Cairo court ordered the dissolution of local councils, which were dominated by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
“I don’t think the timing of these clashes is a coincidence,” said one witness to satellite channel ON TV.
“It came just after the dissolution of the local councils, a decision which I’m sure will make many people (from the old regime) very angry,” the witness in Tahrir Square said.
The interior ministry described the clashes in a statement released early Wednesday as riots, saying the numbers were swelling, accusing the protesters of “attacking citizens and private properties.” It called upon citizens not to listen to rumors that aim at causing a rift between the people and the police.
The ruling military council made similar calls in a statement released early Wednesday. It said the Tahrir events aim at disturbing the security and the stability of the country in an organized plan. “The blood of the martyrs of the revolution is being used to cause a rift between the people and the security institution,” it said.
Throughout the night, the protesters chanted against the military junta.
Families of the martyrs have repeatedly voiced frustration with the slow pace of the trials of the policemen and officials accused of killing and ordering the killing of their children during the protests that toppled president Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. -Additional reporting by agencies.
Motorcycles transported the injured from the center of the action to field hospitals in Tahrir. (Daily News Egypt Photo / Hassan Ibrahim)