As Egypt's first free elections in more than a generation continue, soldiers cracked down viciously on protesters in Cairo. Reports from Tahrir Square, focal point of the protests that drove Hosni Mubarak from power and later forced the military council that succeeded him into permitting elections, said there were at least 10 dead in two days of clashes.
Soldiers "beat demonstrators with batons" and left hundreds wounded, Reuters reported.
Protesters fled into side streets to escape the troops in riot gear, who grabbed people and battered them repeatedly even after they had been beaten to the ground, a Reuters journalist said. Shots were fired in the air.
Soldiers pulled down protester tents and set them on fire, local television footage showed.
In Reuters footage, one soldier in a line of charging troops drew a pistol and fired a shot at retreating protesters. It was not clear whether he was using blanks or live ammunition.
The New York Times notes that the ongoing struggle is driving a wedge between two groups of civilians: those fed up with the chaos of ongoing unrest, and those who still believe they need to protest the military council that continues to exert effective control over the country.
Instead, as the crackdown entered its second day, the military council appeared to be playing to those Egyptians impatient with the continuing protests and eager for a return to stability. Crowds of supporters turned out downtown on Saturday morning to cheer on the military police, hand them drinks of water and help them close off Tahrir Square from demonstrators massing to get in.
Protesters, for their part, charged that the military rulers were provoking the clashes to derail or discredit the ongoing election of a new Parliament that could challenge their power. “The military council is responsible for everything that happens,” Ziad el-Elaimy, a newly elected member of Parliament who was beaten Friday by the military police, said in a television interview.
The strife is also increasingly pitting Islamists against the military.
State media gave conflicting accounts of what sparked the violence. They quoted some people as saying a man went into the parliament compound to retrieve a mis-kicked football, but was harassed and beaten by police and guards. Others said the man had prompted scuffles by trying to set up camp in the compound.
Among the dead was Emad Effat, a senior official of Egypt's Dar al-Ifta, a religious authority that issues Islamic fatwas (edicts). His wife, Nashwa Abdel-Fattah, told Reuters Effat died from a gunshot wound. At his funeral on Saturday, hundreds of mourners chanted "Down with military rule."