Saturday, July 23, 2011

March against Egypt's military junta, attacked

New York Times
March Against Egypt’s Military Collapses Into Violence

July 23, 2011

David D. Kirkpatrick

CAIRO — The first major protest aimed squarely at Egypt’s transitional military rulers ended Saturday night in violent clashes with neighborhood youths, who are opposed to the continued demonstrations that threaten stability.

Egyptian Health Department officials said at least 25 people were hospitalized and 120 others were treated on the scene.

The demonstration, on the day Egyptians celebrate the 1952 military coup against the British-backed monarchy, underscored how liberal elements of the protest movement have increasingly turned on the army after the heady days of the demonstrations that forced President Hosni Mubarak from power.

But it also showcased both the mounting hostility toward the Tahrir Square activists in some precincts more worried about stability and economic growth than swift political change. And, following several other recent bursts of nocturnal street violence, it was the latest reminder that the potential for chaos is still present in this hot, overcrowded city where the still-despised police force has yet to reconstitute and reassert itself.

Late Saturday afternoon, thousands of demonstrators began marching from the two-week-old sit-in in Tahrir Square toward military headquarters to show their impatience with the pace of change, especially in the reorganization of the police and the prosecution of former officials.

A half-dozen army tanks and hundreds of soldiers behind a barrier of barbed wire blocked the final stretch of the road, and when the march reached the barricade around 7 p.m., young counter-protesters, including some armed with knives and machetes, started fistfights and threw rocks and, ultimately, Molotov cocktails.

Organizers pleaded with the demonstrators to hold back or retreat to Tahrir Square. In contrast to the discipline that prevailed before the revolution, these demonstrators quickly retaliated. About a half-dozen cars were set ablaze during a chaotic two-hour street fight as the military watched from behind its barrier without interfering.

The fight died down after hundreds of riot policemen arrived and showered the streets with tear gas. The protesters quickly departed before they came under direct attack. And within another hour, the demonstrators paraded out again, chanting, “We are going to the square.”

*Heba Afify contributed reporting.

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