Tense standoff in Cairo’s Tahrir Square

Thousands of demonstrators re-occupy square, after a violent attempt by security forces to evict them leaves 11 dead.

A stalemate has settled over the Egyptian capital’s Tahrir Square following a day of deadly clashes between security forces and protesters that has left at least 11 people dead, and hundreds injured.

The square, which has been the scene of street battles between riot police and activists demanding an end to Egypt’s military leadership, was relatively calm on Sunday night after protesters regained control of the area and began calling for reinforcements.

Al Jazeera’s security team in the Egyptian capital reported that sources in the city’s morgue said they had received the bodies of 11 people killed when military and police forces made their assault on the square.

There were also clashes in other cities including Alexandria, Al Minya, Suez and Aswan.

Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said: “It is clear [the protesters] won’t leave and they are very much trying to keep police from re-entering the square.”

The demonstrators accuse the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of seeking to retain power from behind the scenes as it oversees the transition, which could see the military remain in control until presidential elections which may not happen until late 2012 or early 2013.

“There is concern that the military government has hijacked their revolution and [the country] has swapped one regime for another regime, and they want an end to that,” Tadros said.

The ruling military council expressed regret for the clashes but said it would stick to the power transfer and hold schedule parliamentary elections, voting for which starts on November 28.

Tadros estimated as many as 3,000 protesters had returned to the square just hours after being dispersed earlier in the day by riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Angry protesters brandished spent shotgun cartridges and bullet casings on Sunday, although police denied using live rounds.

Tadros said all police and security forces had retreated from the square to side streets in the surrounding area.

State television, quoting an official source in the interior ministry, said about 59 soldiers and 21 officers were injured during the clashes.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief urged interim authorities to halt the violence against protesters and ensure a democratic transition following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February.

Catherine Ashton said in a statement on Sunday that she was “extremely concerned” about the violent clashes over the weekend.

Protesters regroup

Despite the harsh crackdown, demonstrators were regrouping in the square as the night continued.

Many were seen clutching gas masks, apparently anticipating further clashes with security forces in the hours, or days, to come.

Meanwhile, witnesses said skirmishes continued to erupt in the alleyways and side streets of Tahrir under the dense fog of tear gas.

The lull in violence in the main square came after police armed with batons and shields charged into the frontlines of protesters who had been blockading the entrances to the square since Saturday.

Earlier, police had fired rubber bullets and forcibly cleared the area in an assault that sparked panic among the estimated 5,000 protesters.

A short time after the offensive, a surge of protesters returned to the square, overwhelming security forces and retaking the area.

Escalating violence

“This is what the Egyptian army calls protecting the revolution,” Salma Said, a democracy activist, told Al Jazeera.

“We’ve lost so many people in the last nine months. We want [interim military leader] Field Marshall Tantawi gone.
We’re going to keep fighting; we don’t have any other options.”

Before the protesters regrouped in the plaza, military police torched tents in the middle of the square, and witnesses reported security forces burning protesters’ motorcycles and other belongings.

Sunday’s violence followed a day of clashes in central Cairo and other major cities, with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military announce a date to hand over power to an elected government.

At least two people were killed and hundreds wounded across the country on Saturday.

Tadros said: “People here are not thinking about elections, they are thinking about their revolution and how to finish it.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies