November 20, 2011
Standoff sets in at Egypt's Tahrir Square | Al Jazeera English

Thousands of protesters are regrouping in central Cairo after day of clashes with security forces that left three dead.

By Malika Bilal

November 20, 2011

A stalemate has settled over the Egyptian capital’s Tahrir Square following a day of deadly clashes between security forces and protesters.

The square, which has been the scene of street battles between riot police and activists demanding an end to Egypt’s military leadership, was relatively calm on Sunday night after protesters regained control of the area and began calling for reinforcements.

Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said all police and security forces had retreated from the square to side streets and roads in the surrounding the area.

Tadros estimated as many as 3,000 protesters had returned to the square just hours after being dispersed earlier in the day by riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Local doctors said three people were killed in the afternoon’s assault to evict the protesters who were calling on the ruling military to transfer of power to a civilian administration.

Protesters regroup

Despite the harsh crackdown, demonstrators were regrouping in the square as the night continued. Many were seen clutching gas masks, apparently anticipating further clashes with security forces in the hours, or days, to come.

"It is clear [the protesters] won’t leave and they are very much trying to keep police from re-entering the square," Tadros said.

She continued: “There is concern that the military government has hijacked their revolution and [the country] has swapped one regime for another regime, and they want an end to that.”

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Meanwhile, witnesses said skirmishes continued to erupt in the alleyways and side streets of Tahrir under the dense fog of tear gas.

The lull in violence in the main square came after police armed with batons and shields charged into the front lines of protesters who had been blockading the entrances to the square since Saturday.

Police fired rubber bullets and forcibly cleared the area in an assault that sparked panic among the estimated 5,000 protesters.

Mahmoud Said, a doctor at the nearby Munira hospital, told the Associated Press the bodies of two men were brought to the hospital on Sunday evening as a result of the crackdown. Mohammed Qenawy, a doctor at one of two field hospitals in the square, said a male protester in his early 20s also was killed.

A short time after the offensive, a surge of protesters returned to the square, overwhelming security forces and retaking the area.

Escalating violence

"This is what the Egyptian army calls protecting the revolution," Salma Said, a democracy activist, told Al Jazeera. "We’ve lost so many people in the last nine months. We want [interim military leader] Field Marshall Tantawi gone. We’re going to keep fighting; we don’t have any other options."

Before the protesters regrouped in the plaza, military police torched tents in the middle of the square, and witnesses reported security forces burning protesters’ motorcycles and other belongings.

As the events in Tahrir continued to unfold, Egypt’s Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and members of his government met the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Details of their meeting, which followed crisis talks between Sharaf and his cabinet ministers, were not yet available.

Sunday’s violence followed a day of clashes in downtown Cairo and other major cities, with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military announce a date to hand over power to an elected government. At least two people were killed and hundreds wounded across the country on Saturday.

As Al Jazeera’s Tadros pointed out, the escalating violence comes just eight days before the country’s first national elections since Hosni Mubarak, the former president, was forced from power in February.

Even so, she said: “People here are not thinking about elections they are thinking about their revolution and how to finish it.”

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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