Bloody clashes in Tahrir Square followed by fragile calm

Sherif Tarek , Wednesday 29 Jun 2011

Few tents are erected in Tahrir Square, as protesters condemn violent clashes between protesters and the police erupted in the early morning on Wednesday

(Photo by Mai Shaheen)

Confrontations between thousands of protesters and police forces broke out once again in Tahrir Square Wednesday morning as central security personnel bombarded the demonstrators with tear gas for hours.

Some people sustained varied wounds after being shot by rubber bullets and there are allegations that live rounds were used against civilians.

Tahrir, the epicenter of the January 25 Revolution, was blocked in the early hours of the day by the protesters in the wake of last night’s fray, forcing cars to turn around and take detours.

Almost all the streets leading to the square were closed as tensions gradually escalated and the number of protesters rose before the situation was relatively contained.

During the battle, ambulances piled into the square to treat injured protesters. At one point, there were more than 20 equipped vehicles. Many doctors also arrived volunteering to help paramedics with first aid.

Others on motorcycles were continually penetrating the crowd on El-Falaki Street to transport the injured protesters to ambulances parked near KFC.

Most of the injured individuals were suffocating and suffering the effects of the tear gas that frequently hung over El-Falaki and El-Sheikh Rihan streets. A number of protesters lost consciousness.

Some of the gas canisters had “made in USA” stamps, further enraging the demonstrators. One frustrated man told Ahram Online the “government has imported more illegal weapons to use against the Egyptian people.”

According to the ministry of health, the number of casualties has exceeded one thousand thus far. Some media reports, however, put the number of injured at nearly double that.

A group of the protesters have been in Tahrir Square since last night, which reportedly saw altercations in front of the ministry of interior as well as at the Balloon Theatre in Agouza between martyrs’ families and police forces. It was this incident that presumably infuriated more people to clash with the police the next day.

Hundreds of demonstrators started shortly after 10am to hurl rocks at police forces deployed at the other end of El-Falaki Street to secure the ministry of interior’s headquarters.

Tear gas bombs repeatedly resounded in Tahrir Square as both sides were taking turns pushing forward and retreating.

One bare-chested young man was shot in his calf and blood was pouring from his leg. Paramedics confirmed to Ahram Online that he was shot by a shotgun.

Another man picked up similar wound to his knee. “Yes, they shot at us,” the exhausted man quickly told Ahram Online while limping resolutely back to the battlefield after being treated.

People in Tahrir Square claimed that a young teenager was shot dead today. On the social network, Twitter, others alleged that an Islam Nasser, age 14, was killed at the hands of the police during the conflict. The claim has yet to be substantiated.

It was also reported that a doctor passed away shortly after dawn, succumbing to a lethal injury he sustained upon being caught in the face by a tear gas bomb. Paramedics on the scene, nonetheless, strongly denied any fatalities, saying “the worst injury only required three stitches.”

Confrontations on El-Falaki Street ended before those on El-Sheikh Rihan, the street that directly leads to the ministry of interior premises. There, thick black smoke appeared suddenly as it was said the police had set tires on fire in another attempt to fend off demonstrators, who kept getting closer to the ministry until central security fired volleys of tear gas at them.

Later on, a young man claiming his brother was one of the 18-day revolt martyrs burst into tears, swearing hysterically at policemen deployed at a public building along with other protesters, who showed sympathy and support for him.

“My brother died at 25… you have always insulted and humiliated us, you bastards,” he yelled heatedly at the policemen, who cursed him in return.

Meanwhile, protest marches were staged as the violence was reduced. Several groups chanted slogans against Field Marshal and de-facto president Hussein Tantawi, accusing him of corruption.

Others called for the resignation of Minister of Interior Mansour El-Eissawi for “applying the same dirty tactics and brutality of his predecessor Habib El-Adly,” who is currently being tried on charges of involvement in the killing of peaceful protesters during the January 25 Revolution.

Furthermore, protesters chanted against ousted president Hosni Mubarak, complaining that he remains untouched even now.

In another scene that evoked memories of the infamous Friday of Rage on 28 January, some protesters propped shotgun casings on their fingers and held aloft tear gas canisters as evidence of human rights violations by the police. Recent press reports quoting doctors at hospitals have said some policemen did use live ammunition on the protesters.

On the other hand, a host of people expressed displeasure with the protests and rallies, causing several small fights over the course of the day.

El-Kasr El-Aini Street was eventually opened as some protesters tried to organize traffic. The April 6th Movement, the Revolution Coalition, Hamdeen Sabahi’s presidential campaign and other demonstrators called for a sit-in that should last until the uprising’s unmet demands are fulfilled.

The number of protesters decreased markedly by noon but it seems violence could erupt again at any moment.

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