CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian police and soldiers fired guns and teargas to try to clear protesters from Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday, the fifth day of clashes that have killed 13 people and drawn a stinging rebuke from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton condemned as “particularly shocking” incidents such as one in which two Egyptian soldiers were filmed dragging a woman protester on the ground by her black full-body veil, exposing her bra, then clubbing and kicking her.
“Women protesters have been rounded up and subjected to horrific abuse. Journalists have been sexually assaulted. And now women are being attacked, stripped and beaten in the streets,” Clinton said in a speech at Washington’s Georgetown University on Monday.
“This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people ...
“Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago.”
Medical sources say 13 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the violence that began on Friday in Tahrir and nearby streets leading to parliament and the cabinet office.
After a night of clashes, gunfire rang out across the square at dawn as security forces charged hundreds of protesters demanding an immediate end to army rule.
Later thousands of women marched on the square to condemning attacks on female protesters. But by nightfall the square was calm again.
The United States, which saw deposed leader Hosni Mubarak as a staunch ally, gives Cairo $1.3 billion a year in military aid, a commitment that began after Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel.
Clinton’s remarks, some of the strongest U.S. criticism of Egypt’s new rulers, ratchet up pressure on the army. But Western diplomats said it was unlikely Washington would use its aid budget as leverage. U.S. officials have so far praised the army for promising to hand power to civilians.
A staggered parliamentary election is under way and the army has pledged to hand power to an elected president by July.
The women marchers were dressed in black and accompanied by male demonstrators who vowed to protect them from harassment.
“The women of Egypt are a red line!” they chanted.
Some looked up at male onlookers on surrounding balconies, chanting: “You who are standing by the window, tomorrow it will be your sisters!”
“This is a continuation of the systematic violence we used to witness (under Mubarak),” said Sarah Rifaat, a 27-year old environmentalist. “They manipulate women, thinking they can break the people and scare them this way.
“What happened to the girl who was stripped and dragged was sheer savagery. We cannot be silent about this. I want someone from the military council to admit responsibility.”
In a statement, the army council that took over after Mubarak was overthrown in February apologized, saying it “respects and appreciates Egyptian women and their right to protest and fully participate in political life.”
General Adel Emara, a member of the army council, said on Monday that the attack on the woman protester was an isolated incident and was under investigation.
But other generals and their advisers have condemned the pro-democracy protesters, sometimes in extraordinary terms.
“What is your feeling when you see Egypt and its history burn in front of you?” retired general Abdel Moneim Kato, an army adviser, told the daily al-Shorouk, referring to a government archive building set alight during clashes. “Yet you worry about a vagrant who should be burnt in Hitler’s incinerators.”
Those comments drew fierce criticism from politicians and rights groups, saying they would stir further violence.
“The least that can be said about such comments is they are irresponsible and he must be punished for them, publicly and transparently,” the Arab Network for Human Rights said, adding that “his Nazi opinions incite hatred and justify violence.”
General Emara said “evil forces” wanted to sow chaos and that soldiers had shown “self-restraint” despite provocation.
“What is happening does not belong with the revolution and its pure youth, who never wanted to bring down this nation,” he said. Despite the actions of the security forces in Tahrir, Emara denied that the army had given orders to clear the square.
Hard-core activists have camped in Tahrir since a protest against army rule on November 18, which was sparked by the army-backed cabinet’s proposals to permanently shield the military from civilian oversight in the new constitution.
A week of mayhem in November killed 42 people.
The flare-up has also marred the parliamentary election, which began on November 28 and ends on January 11.
Results so far suggest the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood and hardline Salafi Islamists will have a majority in the lower house - groups the West once looked to Mubarak to keep in check.
Washington has reached out to Islamists in a shift in approach since the summer. A senior U.S. diplomat met Islamist and other newly elected members of parliament in the northern city of Alexandria, the embassy said on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Alexander Dziadosz; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon