U.N.'s Ban condemns excessive force in Cairo clashes

CAIRO Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:28pm EST

1 of 9. Protesters run during clashes with army soldiers next to a building near cabinet offices near Tahrir Square in Cairo December 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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CAIRO (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned excessive use of force by Egypt's security forces after three days of battles with protesters demanding an end to military rule imposed since Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.

Cairo's Tahrir square - hub of the uprising that ousted Mubarak - has again been convulsed by violence as protesters demand the generals who took charge in February quit power. At least 10 people have died in the past three days.

"Down with Tantawi," about 1,000 protesters chanted late on Sunday, referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi who heads the army council and who was Mubarak's defense minister.

Some youths had earlier hurled rocks and petrol bombs at lines of security forces. Riot police appeared to have moved to the frontline instead of soldiers.

The U.N. Secretary-General "is highly alarmed by the excessive use of force employed by the security forces against protesters, and calls for the transitional authorities to act with restraint and uphold human rights, including the right to peaceful protest," Ban's office said in a statement.

Troops in riot gear have been filmed in recent days beating protesters with long sticks even after they had fallen to the ground. A Reuters picture showed two soldiers dragging a woman lying on the ground by her shirt, exposing her underwear.

The violence has overshadowed a staggered parliamentary election, the first free vote most Egyptians can remember, that is set to give Islamists the biggest bloc.

Some Egyptians are enraged by the army's behavior. Others want to focus on voting, not street protests.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will retain power even after the lower house vote is completed in January, but has pledged to hand over to an elected president by July.

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Hundreds of protesters were in Tahrir Sunday, although traffic was flowing through the square coming from streets not blocked and away from the violence. Most of the clashes have been in streets leading off the square.

BOUTS OF VIOLENCE

One group of activists approached those hurling stones to urge them to stop, but they refused, citing the deaths of 10 people as a reason not to "negotiate." Other activists handed over to the army people they said were making petrol bombs.

A hard core of activists have camped in Tahrir since a protest against army rule on November 18 that was sparked by the army-backed cabinet's proposals to permanently shield the military from civilian oversight in the new constitution.

Bouts of violence since then, including a flare-up last month that killed 42 people, have deepened frustrations of many other Egyptians, who want an end to protests. They see the military as the only force capable of restoring stability.

"There are people who wait for any problem and seek to amplify it ... The clashes won't stop. There are street children who found shelter in Tahrir," said Ali el-Nubi, a postal worker, adding the army should have managed the transition better.

Reuters television footage showed one soldier in a line of charging troops firing a shot at fleeing protesters Saturday, though it was not clear whether he was using live rounds.

The army said it does not use live ammunition. It has also said troops had tackled only "thugs," not protesters.

A building near Tahrir with historic archives was gutted on Saturday by a fire. Some people tried to gather up any remaining, partially charred documents to save them.

The Health Ministry said 10 people had been killed in the violence since Friday and 505 were wounded, of which 384 had been taken to hospital. Most of the deaths happened Friday or early Saturday. No deaths were reported Sunday.

The latest bloodshed began after the second round of voting last week for parliament's lower house. The staggered election began on November 28 and will end with a run-off vote on January 11.

The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties repressed in the 30-year Mubarak era have emerged as strong front-runners.

(Additional reporting by John O'Callaghan, Marwa Awad, Alexander Dziadosz and Shaimaa Fayed; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Graff)

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