Egyptian soldiers with batons charged into Tahrir Square, beating protesters and burning tents, on the second day of violent clashes and anti-military demonstrations in the capital.
The renewed fighting in Cairo on Saturday came as Egypt’s health ministry reported 10 people were killed and 432 others injured since Friday when soldiers stormed an anti-military protest camp outside the parliament building, a short distance from Tahrir.
The soldiers cleared the area as thick black smoke filled the skies following the eruption of a fire in the area around Egypt’s upper house of parliament.
Al Jazeera also filmed exclusive footage of what appeared to be a soldier, in a line of charging troops, drawing a pistol and firing shots at a group of retreating protesters.
“[These are] very nasty and such ugly scenes that we have witnessed for ourselves in downtown Cairo,” said Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros.
“This is real violence that we have seen against the protesters, unarmed protesters being beaten by the military police and the soldiers.”
Military police openly beat women protesters in the street, slapped elders on the face, and pulled the shirt off of at least one veiled woman as she struggled on the pavement. Witnesses told the AP new agency that soldiers beat and gave electric shocks to men and women dragged into detention, many of them held in the nearby parliament buildings.
Aya Emad, a 24-year-old protester, had a broken nose, her arm in a sling, her other arm bruised. She told AP that troops dragged her by her headscarf and hair into the Cabinet headquarters. She said soldiers kicked her on the ground, an officer used an electrical prod on her and another slapped her on the face.
Our correspondent reported that the situation had calmed down over the last few hours.
“We have a situation where the military police and the military soldiers are securing Tahrir Square themselves. Also on the periphery, they are trying to make sure that no one who wants to get back in gets back in. That seems to be their main objective right now, to get people out and to make sure that the whole area does not become re-occupied, as they put it.”
Earlier, Tahrir and streets leading to the nearby parliament and cabinet headquarters looked like war zones. The military set up concrete walls between the square and parliament, but clashes continued.
Flames leaped from the windows of the state geographical society, which protesters pelted with firebombs after military police on the roof rained stones and firebombs down on them. Stones, dirt and shattered glass littered the streets around parliament.
Protesters grabbed helmets, sheets of metal and even satellite dishes to protect themselves from stones from troops above.
Egypt’s prime minister, Kamal el-Ganzouri, addressed the violence in a news conference earlier on Saturday, branding the protesters as counter-revolutionaries, and saying the fighting was an attack on the country’s revolution.
“This is not a revolution, but a counter-revolution,” he said. “Those who are in Tahrir Square are not the youth of the revolution.”
He added that his government would not confront peaceful demonstrations with any force, but he said protesters “threw rocks and destroyed everything they came across”.
Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, who was at the press conference, said the “prime minister’s promises have fallen flat, after the escalation of violence after his message”.
Also on Saturday, nine members of a civilian council set up in November to advise the military after anti-army demonstrations resigned in protest of the military action.
The violence highlights tensions in Egypt 10 months after a popular revolt toppled President Hosni Mubarak. The army generals who replaced him have angered some Egyptians by seeming reluctant to give up power.
The army assault on Saturday followed skirmishes between protesters and troops. A fire destroyed archives in a building next to Tahrir, including historic documents dating back over two centuries.
An official blamed petrol bombs for starting the blaze, the state news agency MENA reported.
An army official said in a statement troops targeted thugs not protesters after shots were fired at soldiers and petrol bombs set the archive building ablaze, MENA reported.
The fighting began on Friday after images were published online of the badly bruised face of an activist, who said he had been detained by military police at a sit-in outside cabinet the previous day and beaten.
The news infuriated protesters, who set cars alight and threw stones at security forces, who then retaliated.
Protesters have been occupying the area in front of the cabinet office for more than two weeks, preventing Ganzouri and his cabinet from meeting there. They are demanding that the country’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) immediately cede authority to a civilian government.
The clashes came as Egypt ended its second round of voting in a long and complicated election process that began on November 28. Voting took place in parts of greater Cairo, Ismailiya and Suez in the east, Aswan in the south and in the Nile Delta regions in the north.