By Sarah El Sirgany
CAIRO: Army soldiers and military police chased protesters in Tahrir and near the parliament building using cattle prods in the early hours of Saturday, beating and arresting a number of activists.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued an apology on its Facebook page Saturday morning, saying the clashes were “unintentional.” In a second statement, the council said it ordered the release of all protesters arrested the night before.
The council “did not and will not issue orders to assault the [youth],” the statement read.
Tens of thousands had flocked to Tahrir on what was dubbed the “Friday of Cleansing,” demanding the removal of the cabinet, especially premier Ahmed Shafiq and other ministers affiliated with and appointed by ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Protesters also called for cracking down on corruption, faster reforms and dissolving the notorious State Security services.
Less than a thousand congregated near the nearby cabinet building towards the end of the day as the thousands in Tahrir dwindled.
Closer to the midnight curfew, as less than 200 stayed in front of the street leading to the parliament and the cabinet buildings, army officers talked to groups of protesters separately, trying to convince them to leave.
At 11:40 pm, a loose cordon of military police and army officers surrounded the protesters, only to be removed about an hour later. A minute after a high ranking army officer told protesters to leave the area, lines of soldiers were formed and a minute later they attacked protesters with cattle prods.
Army soldiers and military policed chased the protesters down Qasr Al-Aini Street, arresting and beating some of them.
Eyewitnesses said a similar cordon was enforced around a bigger number of protesters in Tahrir Square, resulting in more clashes and injuries there.
Shady Ghazali, a leading youth activist, said he and at least four others were detained and taken to a lockup that already held dozens of other protesters who were apparently arrested throughout the day, he said. Some of them showed bruises and other signs of mistreatment, he said.
“The military police is behaving like the state security,” Ghazali said, referring to the hated internal security force that Mubarak’s regime used to crack down on dissent and which was accused of torture.
Activists launched a Facebook call for fresh protests on Saturday to denounce the army’s use of force.
“Peaceful protesters in Tahrir are being chased away by the military police with tasers, sticks and whips. Masked men with machine guns trying to shut down the strike by force. Many beaten, assaulted and arrested,” the statement said.
“We cannot stand for this; we must stand strong against violence towards peaceful protesters.”
A man identified as Amr Abdallah was arrested and beaten by the military police, according to activist Mona Ahmed Seif. He was released after a group of protesters including Cairo University Professor Laila Souif insisted on not leaving without him.
“His face was covered with bruises and his nose was bleeding,” Seif said. When Seif and others tried to take his picture to document the injuries, they were questioned by a military officer and two soldiers on why the reasons for doing so, but none were detained.
Abdallah was arrested again later and, according to Seif, “framed with charges of gun possession.”
“If he had a gun, the army wouldn’t have let him go the first time,” she wrote in a blog post. “They wanted to frame him with gun possession to justify their claim that they only assaulted thugs and criminals.”
In its latest statement on Saturday, the military council said infiltrators had attacked army forces with rocks and bottles, but it stressed that the army will continue to protect the revolution and its goals. –Additional reporting by agencies.