Egyptians clash in Cairo (photo: Mai Shaheen)
The flashpoint Abbasiya district is currently enjoying a degree of calm after the army announced that it had managed to stop the violent clashes that began early Wednesday near the defence ministry building in central Cairo.
Army soldiers and Central Security Forces arrived at the ministry in the early afternoon in an attempt to end fighting between local residents and supporters of disqualified Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail, in which at least nine people have been killed since early Wednesday morning, according to official reports.
Central Security Forces have since positioned themselves between the two groups in an effort to end the stone throwing.
Soldiers from the Central Military Zone took part part in the operation.
At least nine people died and dozens were injured when plainclothes men attacked protesters camping outside the ministry early Wednesday morning.
In a statement released Wednesday morning, Tahrir Doctors – a group of volunteer doctors who treat injured protesters – confirmed that gas bombs and live bullets had been used against demonstrators.
The doctors also condemned the closure of several nearby hospitals, including Demerdash, Ain Shams and Al-Hussein. The only hospital to receive the injured was Al-Shefa, which was reportedly besieged by unknown assailants who reportedly kidnapped the injured and attacked medical personnel.
The four-day sit-in outside the ministry was initially prompted by popular anger over Abu-Ismail's disqualification from the presidential race, but later turned into a protest against military rule.
The assailants attacked protesters in the early hours of Wednesday with homemade bombs, stones, Molotov cocktails, teargas and shotguns loaded with birdshot, according to eyewitness reports.
It was the second major attack on protesters in less than 72 hours. An attack on Saturday reportedly left one protester dead and dozens injured.
Abu-Ismail, meanwhile, has called on political party representatives to boycott Wednesday's scheduled meeting with Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The meeting was meant to discuss the constituent assembly – tasked with drafting a new constitution – and the defence ministry protest led by Abu-Ismail supporters.
"Our blood is being spilled in the streets and you're meeting with the SCAF?" the popular Salafist preacher declared on his Facebook page Wednesday morning.
A number of political parties had already decided to boycott the meeting, including the Salafist Nour Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the liberal Wafd and Adl parties, and the leftist Social Popular Alliance Party.
A number of presidential candidates – including Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and leftist lawyer Khaled Ali – have also decided to suspend their ongoing presidential campaigns to protest the use of force against protesters.
FJP head and Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi also announced plans to suspend his campaign for a two-day period to mourn protesters' deaths.
It had been rumoured that the SCAF had hoped to discuss at the meeting the possible postponement of presidential elections slated for 23 and 24 May. A military source quoted in Al-Ahram's Arabic-language website, however, has since denied the speculation, reiterating the SCAF's intention to hand over executive power by the end of next month.
"These reports are completely false. The military council has no plans to postpone presidential elections," the source said. "Field Marshal Tantawi... has stressed that he will hand over power at the end of June."
Meanwhile, several political activists have issued calls for a protest march from the Fath Mosque in Cairo's Ramses district to the ongoing sit-in outside the defence ministry to express solidarity with the demonstrators.