CAIRO: The army broke the sit-in at Tahrir Square Wednesday as attackers armed with knives and machetes waded into hundreds of protesters camping there.
An eyewitness told Daily News Egypt that army officers broke the tents while protesters were clashing with the attackers. The officers used force with whoever stood in their way and chased the rest of the protesters down surrounding streets. Some protesters were seen picking up what was left of the tents.
Photographers or anyone holding a camera was arrested or chased, several eyewitnesses confirmed.
Less than an hour later another eyewitness said he saw armed men threatening citizens on Bab El-Louq Street.
Stone-throwing skirmishes continued throughout the day. Activists were gathering sticks and stockpiling rocks to defend themselves from the mob, supporters of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
“A couple of hours ago the pro-Mubarak thugs attacked us and tried to come into Tahrir, but we were able to push them back, with sticks and stones. We fear they will return,” young protester, Mouez Mohamed, told AFP.
Tahrir Square was the symbolic heart of last month’s uprising that forced Mubarak from office, and hundreds of pro-democracy activists remain camped out there to maintain pressure on the military regime that replaced him.
“Hundreds of men carrying knives and swords entered Tahrir,” state television reported, as footage showed rocks being thrown and hundreds of activists scattering and diving for cover.
There were few signs of any security forces at the site, apart from two army tanks protecting the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities at the north end of the square, in the heart of the capital.
The clashes took place as the newly appointed cabinet met with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to propose a law criminalizing incitement to hatred, which could lead to the death penalty, state TV said.
The military rulers were struggling to bring calm on several fronts, as clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims in the working class area of Moqattam left 13 dead and scores wounded, the health ministry said.
Insecurity has been rife after police disappeared from the streets during protests that toppled Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt for 30 years under emergency law.
Earlier the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group, blamed diehards of Mubarak’s regime for inciting violence — a view widely shared across the country. –Additional reporting by Daily News Egypt.