CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf expressed regret on Monday for a violent crackdown on demonstrators in Cairo at the weekend and said he had asked the minister of justice to investigate.
“All of us, the people, the army and the government, feel regret for the events of last Saturday,” Sharaf said in a speech broadcast on Egyptian television.
Rights groups accused the army of using excessive force when it tried to remove protesters early on Saturday, hours after hundreds of thousands had massed for one of the biggest protests since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
The protesters were demanding a deeper purge of corrupt officials and that Egypt’s ruling military council turn the country’s affairs over to civilian rule.
Medical sources said 13 men were wounded by gunfire and two people died when the army tried to clear the protesters from Tahrir Square during a 2 a.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew.
“There are demands by the people over what happened, to find out the facts, and for that I have asked my colleague the minister of justice to take the necessary steps to assure that those demands are achieved,” Sharaf said.
Around 2,000 protesters defy on Monday an army demand to quit Tahrir Square, blocking traffic with coils of barbed wire left by the army when it withdrew after the Saturday clashes.
Egypt’s public prosecutor ordered that Safwat Sherif, former head of the upper house of parliament, be detained for 15 days as part of a probe into accusations of graft, the state news agency MENA said.
A special panel formed to uncover illicit gains also summoned Fathi Sorour, former speaker of the lower house of parliament, for questioning on Wednesday over accusations he had amassed large amounts of money illegally, MENA reported.
Sherif and Sorour were senior members of former President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party and among his closest aides. Both are main targets of reformers seeking tough action against figures of the past administration.
The panel, chaired by senior justice ministry official Essam el-Gawahri, has been investigating a string of businessmen and former officials and on Sunday summoned Mubarak and his sons Alaa and Gamal for questioning.
Sherif, who was taken to Torah Prison in southern Cairo on Monday evening, was accused of “exploiting a public position for his own benefit and the benefit of his family, which led to their accumulating large wealth,” MENA quoted a panel member as saying.
Sharaf said legal steps against Mubarak were continuing despite a statement by the former president, broadcast on Sunday, that he and his family were not guilty of corruption.
“Concerning the statement broadcast by the former president, all I can say is that the legal procedures are going ahead, as the minister of justice and the public prosecutor have said.”
State media said prosecutors had frozen assets of 200 people since Mubarak was forced from office in February.
Former oil minister Sameh Fahmy and his wife had their bank accounts and assets frozen, official news agency MENA reported on Monday.
But the protesters want tougher and swifter action and have promised to occupy Tahrir Square until a new round of protests on Friday, irritating some Cairo residents who showed little sympathy for their cause.
The army had announced that Tahrir would be cleared, but on Monday there was little to suggest it was preparing for a new attempt to clear the square, a major thoroughfare in the traffic-snarled capital.
A dozen troop carriers and a line of soldiers were posted near Tahrir, focus of the 18-day revolt that culminated on February 11 when Mubarak stepped down after three decades in power.
Around 2,000 protesters chatted in groups or gathered up debris still littering the square after the weekend violence.
“The challenge is keeping the square occupied with protesters from now till Friday,” said protester Ismail Ahmed, a protester and activist. “Opposition forces have said they will rally in Tahrir this Friday, so we are not worried.”
Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Isabel Coles; Editing by Michael Roddy