CAIRO: Hundreds of Egyptian protesters demanding an immediate end to military rule clashed on Sunday with rivals in civilian clothes outside central Cairo’s state media building, the same place where 27 people were killed in a demonstration in October.
"Down with military rule," protesters chanted. The sound of gunshots rang through the air but it was unclear who was firing.
"Tell me council, who chose you? It’s Mubarak’s gang that appointed you," the crowd chanted, referring to the army council which has ruled Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted on Feb. 11.
Dozens of protesters clashed with a group of people protesters described as "thugs" brought out to attack them, hurling stones at each other. There was no sign of police or troops intervening or securing the media building.
"We were protesting here peacefully, and all of a sudden a group of around 50 thugs came from side streets surrounding the building and attacked us with stones and glass bottles, and we responded by throwing stones back at them. They tore down our tents," said Mohamed Abdo, 45, an elevator worker.
State radio said residents in a poor area next to Maspero, the site of the demonstration, had challenged the protesters because they were disrupting shops and businesses in the area.
Protesters often say such "thugs", usually youths in plain clothes and sometimes members of the police force, have been hired by the authorities to disrupt demonstrations.
The October violence at Maspero in which 27 people died erupted when troops tried to break up a protest sparked by what Christians said was an attack on a church in southern Egypt.
Egyptians have become increasingly frustrated by military rule, though many still see the army as a vital force for stability after months of political turmoil.
"The country cannot continue like this. Things are getting worse. They have to transfer power now. The country cannot stay like this any longer," said Waleed Kamal, 25.
He was not among the protesters, but lives nearby. "If we get civilian rule, the country will get back on its feet, the economic wheel will turn," he added.
Egyptians on Jan. 25 marked the first anniversary of mass demonstrations against Mubarak in Tahrir Square, near the Maspero site of Sunday’s protest.