Egyptian soldiers and police set fire to protest tents in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and fired tear gas and rubber bullets in a major assault Sunday to drive out thousands demanding that the military rulers quickly transfer power to a civilian government. At least 11 protesters were killed and hundreds were injured.
It was the second day of clashes marking a sharp escalation of tensions on Egypt’s streets a week before the first elections since the ouster of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February. The military took over the country, promising a swift transition to civilian rule. But the pro-democracy protesters who led the uprising have grown increasingly angry with the ruling generals, and suspect they are trying to cling to power even after an elected parliament is seated and a new president is voted in.
Street battles continued throughout the day and long into the night, spreading to side streets and sending a wave of injuries to makeshift clinics on the streets.
The military-backed Cabinet said in a statement that elections set to begin on Nov. 28 would take place on time and thanked the police for their “restraint,” language that is likely to enrage the protesters even more.
“We’re not going anywhere,” protester Mohammed Radwan said after security forces tried unsuccessfully to push the crowds out of Tahrir, the epicenter of the uprising. “The mood is good now and people are chanting again,” he added after many of the demonstrators returned.
The two days of clashes were some of the worst since the uprising ended on Feb. 11.
They were also one of only a few violent confrontations to involve the police since the uprising. The black-clad police were a hated symbol of Mubarak’s regime and after the uprising, they have largely stayed in the background while the military took charge of security.
The military, which took over from Mubarak, has repeatedly pledged to hand power to an elected civilian government, but has yet to set a specific date. The protests over the past two days have demanded a specific date be set.