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Protesters In Egypt Say Military Using Force

Egypt

First Posted: 02/25/11 10:02 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:35 PM ET

* Protesters say military fires shots into air

* Thousands in Tahrir Square had called for new cabinet

* Egyptian investigators detain former information minister

(Updates with quotes, details, arrest of official)

By Marwa Awad and Dina Zayed

CAIRO, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Egyptian soldiers fired in the air and used batons in the early hours of Saturday to disperse activists demanding the cabinet appointed by Hosni Mubarak be purged by the country's new military leaders, protesters said.

Thousands had gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to celebrate two weeks since Mubarak's removal and remind the country's new rulers, who have promised to guard against "counter revolution" of the people's power.

In the gathering in the epicentre of the uprising against the president, activists urged the military, who had promised there would be "no return to the past" of the Mubarak era, to overhaul the cabinet and install a team of technocrats.

But after midnight, protesters said the military fired in the air, shut off the light from lampposts, and moved in on protesters to force them to leave the square, in an unusual use of military force against protesters since Mubarak's fall.

"Military police used batons and tasers to hit the protesters," Ahmed Bahgat, one of the protesters, told Reuters by telephone. "The military is once again using force. But the protesters have not responded."

Protesters left the main centre but many had gathered in surrounding streets, another protester, Mohamed Emad, said. Witnesses said they saw several protesters fall to the ground but it was not clear if they were wounded or how seriously.

"I am one of thousands of people who stood their ground after the army started dispersing the protesters, shooting live bullets into the air to scare them," said protester Ashraf Omar.

TASERS AND STICKS

"They were using tasers and sticks to beat us without any control. I thought things would change. I wanted to give the government a chance but there is no hope with this regime," Omar said. "There is no use."

"I am back on the street. I either live with dignity or I die here."

Protesters say they want the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, the immediate release of political prisoners and the issuing of a general amnesty.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's best organised political group, and others are particularly concerned about the key portfolios of defence, interior, justice and foreign affairs, and want a clean break from Mubarak's old guard.

The military, facing strikes over pay as well as turmoil in Libya, treads a fine line between granting people new freedoms and restoring normal life.

The army officers who moved in on protesters in Tahrir, donned black masks to cover their faces to avoid being identified by protesters, Omar said.

Military busses were parked in the square to take in protesters that were caught, Mohamed Aswany, one protester who had decided to stage a sit-in, told Reuters by telephone.

Protesters were heard yelling and shouting as they were chased down side streets to Tahrir.

"It is a cat and mouse chase between the army and the people," Omar said in dismay. "There is no more unity between the people and the army."

FORMER OFFICIALS DETAINED

In one attempt to appease protesters and show a break with the past, several former ministers and business executives linked to Mubarak's ruling party have come under investigation.

Egypt's public prosecutor referred two former ministers and several prominent businessmen to a criminal court on Thursday on accusations of squandering public funds. [ID:nLDE71N121]

In the latest case, investigators have ordered the detention of former Information Minister Anas el-Fekky for 15 days on charges of profiteering and wasting public funds, the state news agency MENA said on Saturday.

Investigators also ordered the head of the Egyptian Television and Broadcasting Union be detained.

Anti-government protesters had been angered by Fekky because state media, which fell under his charge, had ignored, played down or attacked demonstrations that ousted Mubarak.

Egypt's prosecutor said in its charges against Fekky that he had allocated state television funding to back presidential and parliamentary campaigns for Mubarak and his National Democratic Party, in violation of election laws.

The prosecutor also said Fekky had used excess funding in revamping studios and for channels owned by state television.

The former minister denied the charges, MENA reported, saying that he saw no excess in allocating budgets and that he had made such decisions to maintain competitiveness with other, private channels.

Fekky also denied that state television unfairly helped the campaign for Mubarak or his party:

"Those campaigns spoke of accomplishments in Egypt in general and did not praise one person or one party." (Additional reporting by Mohamed Abdellah; Writing by Dina Zayed; Editing by Alison Williams)

Copyright 2010 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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Filed by Adam Goldberg  |