Friday, July 22, 2011

Egyptian Police Disperse Alexandria Protesters

Egypt police disperse Alexandria protesters: witness

8:18pm EDT
By Abdel Rahman Youssef

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Egyptian military police fired shots in the air and beat demonstrators blocking a main road in Alexandria on Friday, witnesses said, a move which could further sour relations between the army and civilians.

It was a rare incidence of violence in two weeks of largely peaceful protests in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Cairo and the Suez Canal city of Suez following a court's decision to free on bail 10 policemen accused of killing protesters during the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in February.

The violence in Alexandria and an incident in Suez angered hundreds of protesters camping in Cairo's Tahrir Square, witnesses said.

They said a crowd of more than 1,000 began marching toward the headquarters of the ruling military council, chanting: "Down with the Field Marshal" -- a reference to the council head, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. Witnesses said military police fired in the air to stop them approaching the building.

The ruling military council, in a statement on its Facebook page, denied the authorities used force against demonstrators anywhere in Egypt and accused the April 6 Movement, one of the groups behind the uprising, of trying to drive a wedge between the armed forces and the people.

Egypt's interim rulers have reshuffled Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's cabinet and promised to speed up trials and political reforms, but thousands kept up protests across Egypt on Friday to back demands for the policemen's trials to be held soon.

Hassan al-Ruwaini, a member of the ruling military council, told state television the council was trying to meet protesters' demands, but it was up to the courts to free or convict suspects on trial.

Witnesses said the clash in Alexandria erupted after hundreds of protesters blocking the coastal road near the army's northern command headquarters refused to leave the area. Police fired shots in the air and charged demonstrators who responded by hurling stones at them.

"The military police are firing in the air. They are also beating protesters with batons and kicking them hard," a witness told Reuters.

Witnesses said up to 10 people were believed to have been hurt in the clashes. Many demonstrators fled but a group of men seized a police truck and set it on fire, witnesses said.

In Suez, the state MENA news agency said military police "foiled" an attack on the local security headquarters and detained four people after a crowd attacked the building with a firebomb and stones.


Sharaf, in a speech after his new cabinet was sworn in on Thursday, promised to set up an anti-corruption body and work to scrap a 30-year-old emergency law. He also said the interior minister would appoint a human rights adviser, and human rights and civil society groups would have access to prisons.

But activists said this was not enough.

"We are continuing the sit-in because the families of the martyrs have demands that have not been met yet," said Shadi Ghazali Harb from the Youth Coalition in Cairo.

"The July 8 protests were triggered by the pending demands of families who are angry with the slow pace of prosecution of those who killed protesters," he added.

Harb said the Youth Coalition was forming a committee to meet the interior and justice ministries to press the demands of families of the 840 Egyptians killed in the anti-Mubarak revolt.

Their demands include putting officers charged with shooting demonstrators into "protective custody so they would not intimidate the families of martyrs" and appointing a new prosecution team to look into outstanding cases of killings of protesters.

Activists, mainly representing secular, liberal and leftist groups, have been camping in Tahrir Square since July 8, after a court decided to release on bail the 10 policemen charged with the January killings in Suez.

About 300 people held a rally in another part of Cairo in support of the military council, calling for "stability" and an end to protests in Egypt.

Islamist groups, including the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups who advocate adherence to early Islamic teachings, plan to hold a rally in Cairo on July 29 to press for a return to stability in Egypt.

Political groups have called for a rally on Saturday to oppose trials of civilians in military courts, coinciding with the anniversary of the 1952 revolution led by the army.

(Reporting by Abdel Rahman Youssef in Alexandria, Mohammed Abdellah and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by Matthew Jones)

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