At least three people were killed on Sunday as Egyptian soldiers and police set fire to tents in the middle of Cairo’s Tahrir Square and fired tear gas and rubber bullets in a major assault to drive out thousands of protesters after two days of clashes.
The Guardian reported that several candidates suspended their campaigns over the deadly violence, placing upcoming elections in doubt.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene said police and troops chased the protesters out of most of the square as the sun was about to set over the city. But soon after night fell, hundreds of protesters were making their way back to the square, slowly approaching the heart of the square while waving the red, white and black Egyptian flags and chanting “Allahu Akbar,” or God is greatest.
The protesters are demanding that the military, which took over from Mubarak in February, quickly announce a date for the handover of power to a civilian government.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s ruling military council and the army-picked cabinet held an urgent meeting on Sunday to discuss the violence and ensure an election next week goes ahead on time, the cabinet said.
Cabinet spokesman Mohamed Hegazy told Reuters the meeting was to discuss “the political and security situation and the aftermath of the Tahrir Square confrontation and the effort to contain the situation.” Hegazy said the meeting would discuss steps to “calm down the street and create a conducive atmosphere towards the election.”
Asked if the parliamentary election due to start on Nov. 28 would go ahead as planned, he said: “We are all insisting on having the election on time - the government, parties and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.”
At least a dozen of the protesters’ tents, along with blankets and banners, were set ablaze after nightfall and a pall of black smoke rose over the square as the sound of gunshots rang out.
Tensions are rising on Egypt’s streets in the days leading up to Nov. 28 - the start of the first parliamentary elections since the ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. The violence reflects rising public anger over the slow pace of reforms and apparent attempts by the ruling generals to retain power over a future civilian government.
“We’re not going anywhere,” said protester Mohammad Radwan. “The mood is good now and people are chanting again.”
The assault followed the protest earlier on Sunday by some 5,000 people in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak in February. Many chanted “freedom, freedom” as they pelted police with rocks and a white cloud of tear gas hung in the air.
“We have a single demand: The marshal must step down and be replaced by a civilian council,” said protester Ahmed Hani, referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council and Mubarak’s longtime defense minister. “The violence yesterday showed us that Mubarak is still in power,” said Hani, who was wounded in the forehead by a rubber bullet. He spoke over chants of “freedom, freedom” by hundreds of protesters around him.