New walls built around interior ministry as clashes continue

Bel Trew, Sunday 5 Feb 2012

Police erect three concrete barricades around besieged interior ministry as clashes between anti-govt protesters and security forces enter fourth consecutive day

Egypt's Central Security Forces guard the military as they build the third wall surrounding the Ministry of Interior on El-Falaky street (Photo: Bel Trew)

Three concrete walls were erected around Egypt’s interior ministry on Sunday morning by the ministry’s Central Security Forces (CSF) as fierce clashes between anti-government protesters and police entered their fourth consecutive day outside the ministry’s precincts.

Fighting in the streets of downtown Cairo, where the ministry is located, initially erupted following protests staged by the Ultras – hardcore football fans – against security forces’ handling of last week’s clash between rival football fans in Port Said that left 74 dead.  

Demonstrators are calling for a radical overhaul of Egypt’s police apparatus and the immediate handover of executive power from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which they hold responsible for last week’s football violence, to a civilian authority.

The new concrete barricades around the ministry bring the number of walls recently built by Egyptian security forces in and around Tahrir Square to eight, including barriers built by the army in November and December.

Clashes have also continued in the canal city of Suez, another hotbed of recent anti-government protests. Since Thursday, a total of 12 people have been reported killed and over 2,500 injured in both cities.

Despite a temporary ceasefire on Saturday morning and the erection of barbed-wire barricades on Mansour Street, located adjacent to the ministry, violence erupted again at around 4pm. Police at that point began firing teargas into the crowd of several thousand protesters.

Fighting intensified over night, with the CSF employing large amounts of teargas – along with rubber bullets, birdshot and, reportedly, live ammunition – to disperse crowds.

“We’ve mainly seen birdshot injuries to the face and legs and excessive tear gas inhalation,” said Ahmed Nasr, 22, a doctor’s assistant at a makeshift field hospital on Falaky Street.

Ahram Online saw one protester convulsing after inhaling excessive amounts of teargas as he was being driven to hospital on the back of a motorcycle.

“We’ve also begun seeing an unidentified black gas,” said protester Mahmoud Nabil, 21. “This black smoke makes everyone faint. No one knows what it is.”

At approximately 3am Sunday morning, the CSF began transporting large concrete blocks to the area, where they proceeded to build a 12-foot-high concrete barricade on Fahmy Street in a bid to separate demonstrators from the ministry. Protesters, meanwhile, congregated around Mansour Street.

“It was very calm when they were building the wall on Fahmy Street,” said Nabil. “Then two CSF units abruptly launched an attack from that direction.”

At around 5am, at least two armoured vehicles entered the area firing bullets and tear gas, eyewitnesses told Ahram Online. Security forces, meanwhile, began building another wall on Mansour Street.

“Soldiers ran alongside the cars beating protesters with batons,” said one activist who gave his name as Hossam. “We were pushed to Bab Al-Louq Square or down behind the dismantled Mohamed Mahmoud wall.”

According to eyewitnesses, several protesters were detained by security forces at this point.

Eighteen-year-old student and protester Sanaa Seif alleged that her freind, Ahmed Ibrahim, had been “arrested by a man in plainclothes and tortured inside the ministry.” Seif also said that a handful of protesters who had situated themselves next to the Property Tax building opposite the ministry had also been arrested after the army had forced protesters from the area.

Exact numbers of those detained during Sunday morning’s clashes, however, remain unconfirmed.

Some field hospitals, meanwhile, were also targeted by security forces.

“Doctors were trapped inside the Falaky Street field hospital when the side streets were cleared,” said Hossam. “Police attacked the hospital and beat doctors. The injured were unable to flee. Ambulances tried to rescue them, but they also came under fire. Eventually, the CSF said they would hand over the doctors if we left the street.”

Later on Sunday morning, the military began assisting the CSF in building a third wall on Falaky Street. Ranks of police guarded the partially-erected wall as the army, using cranes, laid down a final layer of concrete blocks. A group of local residents, meanwhile, prevented protesters from approaching the construction work.

At 10:45am, armoured vehicles entered Mohamed Mahmoud Street and began advancing on the dozens of protesters who still remained in the area.

Several local residents told Ahram Online that they had urged activists to move their protest to Tahrir Square, complaining that the new barricades and ongoing clashes were sorely disrupting life in the area.

By midday, however, clashes had resumed, with the CSF again firing tear gas and birdshot at protesters. 

At 2pm, there was a lull in the violence when a group of unidentified activists formed a human chain in front of the police line on Mansour Street in an effort to separate the two warring sides. “Those who claim to love Egypt shouldn’t destroy it,” they chanted.

Mazhar Shahin, imam at the nearby Omar Makram Mosque, organised a 200-strong march from Tahrir Square that arrived at Mansour Street at about 3.30pm with the stated aim of maintaining a temporary truce between police and protesters. 

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