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Saturday, September 10, 2011

EGYPT REVOLT - Protest of Thousands in Cairo Turns Violent

CAIRO — A demonstration that brought tens of thousands to this city’s central Tahrir Square turned violent on Friday, when thousands of people — led by a heavy contingent of soccer fans — tore down a protective wall around the Israeli Embassy, while others defaced the headquarters of the Egyptian Interior Ministry.

About 200 people were injured in clashes with the police at the Israeli Embassy and 31 were injured near the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Health said late Friday night. Protesters scaled the walls of the Israeli Embassy to tear down its flag, broke into offices and tossed binders of documents into the streets.

Mustafa el Sayed, 28, said he had been among about 20 protesters who broke into the embassy. He showed a reporter video from a cellphone, of protesters rummaging through papers and ransacking an office, and he said they had briefly beaten up an Israeli employee they found inside, before Egyptian soldiers stopped them. The soldiers removed the protesters from the building, he said, but let them go free.

By 11:30 p.m., about 50 trucks had arrived with Egyptian riot police officers, who filled the surrounding streets with tear gas. Witnesses said that protesters had set a kiosk on fire in front of a security building near the embassy, and that the police had fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd from both buildings. But at 3 a.m. Saturday, thousands of protesters were still battling thousands of riot police officers. Demonstrators threw rocks and gasoline bombs at the officers, sometimes forcing them to retreat, and the police fired back with tear gas. To celebrate an advance, protesters set off the flares that they typically use to cheer at soccer matches.

Egyptian airport officials said early Saturday that the Israeli ambassador was waiting for a military plane to leave the country, The Associated Press reported.

United States officials said Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Israel had called Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who in turn asked the Egyptian military to try to restore order at the embassy.

In addition, a fire broke out in the basement of the Interior Ministry, but it appeared to have been started from the inside and not by the protesters surrounding the building. The fire was in a room believed to store criminal records.

The scale of the protests and the damage inflicted represented a departure from the previously peaceful character of the demonstrations staged periodically in Tahrir Square since the revolution in January and February.

Organizers of Friday’s demonstrations had said they would call for a list of familiar liberal goals, like retribution against former President Hosni Mubarak and an end to military trials of civilians. But thousands of people marched off from the square to express their anger over disparate recent events, including a recent dispute along the border with Israel and a brawl between soccer fans and the police at a match on Tuesday.

Thousands of hard-core soccer fans — known here as ultras — were for the first time a conspicuous presence in the protests and a dominant force in the violence. They led the attacks on the Interior Ministry and the security building near the Israeli Embassy, and they kept up the fight outside the embassy long after others had gone home. At the Interior Ministry, political activists tried to form human barriers to protect the building, urging protesters to retreat to the square and chanting, “Peacefully, peacefully.”

“Those who love Egypt should not destroy it!” they chanted.

The embassy, which has been the site of several previous demonstrations after the Israeli armed forces accidentally killed at least three Egyptian officers while chasing Palestinian militants near the border last month, was an early target on Friday. In response to almost daily protests since the shootings, the Egyptian authorities had built a concrete wall surrounding the embassy, and by early afternoon thousands of protesters, some equipped with hammers, were marching toward the building to try to tear down the wall.

Continue reading - NY Times - Protest of Thousands in Cairo Turns Violent

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