CAIRO -- Firing tear gas and rubber bullets, Egyptian riot police on Sunday clashed for a second day in downtown Cairo with thousands of rock-throwing protesters demanding that the ruling military quickly announce a date to hand over power to an elected government.
The police battled an estimated 5,000 protesters in and around the capital's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day uprising that toppled authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February. Tear gas filled the air as protesters, many chanting "freedom, freedom," pelted the police with rocks.
Sunday's clashes, which come a day after two people were killed and hundreds wounded in similar unrest in the capital and other major cities, are stoking tensions eight days before the start of the country's first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections. The violence reflects the rising public anger over the slow pace of reforms and apparent attempts by Egypt's ruling generals to retain power over a future civilian government.
"We have a single demand: The marshal must step down and be replaced by a civilian council," said protester Ahmed Hani, referring Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's military ruler and Mubarak's longtime defense minister.
"The violence yesterday showed us that Mubarak is still in power," said Hani, who was wounded in the forehead by a rubber bullet. He spoke over chants of "freedom, freedom" by hundreds of protesters around him.
Rocks, shattered glass and trash covered the pavement in Tahrir and the side streets leading off the square, while a cloud of white smoke from tear gas hung in the air. Several hundred protesters were camping out on the lawn of the square's traffic island, and protesters manning barricades into the square checked the IDs of anyone trying to enter.
The windows of the main campus of the American University in Cairo, which overlooks the square, were shattered and stores were shuttered. "The marshal is Mubarak's dog," read one of a fresh crop of graffiti in the square.
An Interior Ministry official said 55 protesters have been arrested since the violence began on Saturday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Yahya el-Sawi, a 21-year-old university student, said he was enraged by the sight of riot police beating up protesters already hurt in an earlier attack by the security forces. "I did not support the sit-in at the beginning, but when I saw this brutality I had to come back to be with my brothers," he said.
Many of the protesters had red eyes and coughed incessantly. Some wore surgical masks to help combat the tear gas. A few fainted, overwhelmed by the gas.
Hundreds of protesters gathered near the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, to offer the Muslim noon prayers, but came under police attack using tear gas and rubber bullets. Ali Saber, a protester who attended the prayer, said the man who led the prayer was hit in the shoulder by a gas canister.
Doctors staffing two field hospitals in the square said they have treated around 700 protesters so far on Sunday. Alaa Mohammed, a doctor, said most of those treated suffered breathing problems or wounds caused by rubber bullets.
"The police are targeting the head, not the legs as they normally do," said Mohammed.
Protesters were using social networking sites on the Internet to call on Egyptians to join them, and there were reports of several demonstrations headed to the square, including one from Cairo University.
The military, which took over from Mubarak, has repeatedly pledged to hand over power to an elected government but has yet to set a specific date. According to one timetable floated by the army, the handover will happen after presidential elections are held late next year or early in 2013. The protesters say this is too late and accuse the military of dragging its feet. They want a handover to take place immediately after the end of parliamentary elections in March.
Sunday's clashes mark a continuation of the violence a day earlier, when police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and beat protesters with batons, clearing the square at one point and pushing the fighting into surrounding side streets of downtown Cairo.
At least one protester was killed in Cairo, and another in Alexandria, officials said, and 676 injured.
The government has urged protesters to clear the square.
A member of the military council, Maj. Gen. Mohsen el-Fangari, said protesters' calls for change ahead of the election were a threat to the state.
"What is the point of being in Tahrir?" he asked, speaking by phone to a private TV channel. "What is the point of this strike, of the million marches? Aren't there legal channels to pursue demands in a way that won't impact Egypt ... internationally?"
"The aim of what is going on is to shake the backbone of the state, which is the armed forces."
In a warning, he said, "If security is not applied, we will implement the rule of law. Anyone who does wrong will pay for it."
Saturday's confrontation was one of the few since the uprising to involve the police, which have largely stayed in the background while the military took charge of security. There was no military presence in and around the square on Saturday or Sunday. The black-clad police were a hated symbol of Mubarak's regime.
Some of the wounded had blood streaming down their faces and many had to be carried out of the square by fellow protesters to waiting ambulances. Human rights activists accused police of using excessive force.
Egyptian-American reporter Mona Eltahawy was reportedly beaten and arrested today in Cairo. She tweeted, "Beaten arrested in interior ministry", sparking a Twitter-wide frenzy. The U.S. State Department responded via Twitter, saying "Reports of @monaeltahawy and @pangeaworld detention very concerning. @USEmbassyCairo engaging authorities. #FreeMona"
The Associated Press has an update on the arrest of Jehane Nojaim.
AP -- An American film maker has told a colleague by phone that she was arrested by Egyptian police while documenting clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Jehane Nojaim's producer Karim Amer says she was detained and her camera was confiscated.
He said Wednesday he was separated from her after they both fled from tear gas.
Nojaim is an award-winning film maker of Egyptian ancestry, best known for her 2004 documentary "Control Room" about the pan-Arab news station, Al-Jazeera.
Clashes resumed for a fifth day in central Cairo despite a promise by the head of the ruling military council to speed transition to civilian rule, aiming for next July. Protesters demand that the military leave office now.
|@ liamstack : Arrested the moment CSF broke truce on mansur st "@hadeelalsh: American-Egyptian film maker Jehane Nojaim arrested by mil police in #Tahrir"|
The grand imam of Al-Azhar, the most important religious institution in Egypt, urged police to refrain from shooting on protesters, Al Arabiya reports.
Al-Azhar “calls on the police leadership to immediately issue orders not to point their weapons at demonstrators... no matter what the reasons,” grand imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb reportedly saidin a recorded address on state television.
“Al-Azhar also calls on our children in Tahrir Square and all the squares of Egypt to maintain the peaceful nature of their revolution, despite the sacrifices and difficulties they face and to protect all private and public property,” the imam added.
Al Masry Al Youm reports Egypt's Health Minister Amr Helmy acknowledged the use of live ammunition, cartridges and rubber bullets against demonstrators in Tahrir Square.
Helmy also promised to launch a committee to examine the type of teargas that was fired at the protesters. He denied the use of nerve agent in the gas, as Mohamed ElBaradei suggested in a tweet yesterday.
Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reports from Tahrir Square that Mohamed Mahmoud street is being hit with constant rounds of tear gas. Dozens of people are injured. Tadros says the protesters are putting up bonfires to create a buffer between the demonstrators and the police.
|@ seldeeb : security firing at protesters near #tahrir: http://t.co/Jsgi1MMv via @twitpic (via @Menna_Medhat)|
The BBC's David Botti has an interesting piece on Mohamed Mahmoud street, site of most of the clashes in the past days.Botti writes:
The street is largely unknown to the outside world - overshadowed by the street's neighbor, Tahrir Square. But its role in Egypt's struggle to navigate a post-revolution era mirrors that of the nation where violence still flares and people still demand change.
Read the article here.
CNN's Ben Wedeman reporting discord between the Army and Central Security in Tahrir
|@ bencnn : It is clear there is a serious disagreement between the Army and Interior Ministry over how to deal with the battle off #Tahrir #Egypt|
|@ bencnn : Saw Army soldiers trying to stop Central Security Forces from throwing rocks, shooting teargas, but they were outnumbered. #tahrir #egypt|
The International Crisis Group weigh in on whether or not to hold Egypt's scheduled elections next week.
The group writes:
There are valid arguments as to why elections cannot be held that early given ongoing violence and instability. But a postponement – at least without a consensus among political parties – could prove far more costly. It would further fuel concern about the SCAF’s intentions, further split the opposition, and antagonise the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which almost certainly would see this as an attempt to rob it of its expected strong showing. As for presidential elections, they should be moved up and held as soon as feasible.
via Al Masry Al Youm
The truce between protesters and police in Mohamed Mahmoud street is reportedly over. Associate Press reporter Hadeel Al Shalchi tweets there are bonfires in the street and clouds of tear gas are hanging over the area.
|@ liamstack : I cannot believe the ceasefire just ended that way. No idea where this goes from here. #tahrir #egypt|
Al Masry Al Youm reports the United Nations Human Rights Chief called for an investigation into the death of portesters on Egypt's Tahrir square.
"I urge the Egyptian authorities to end the clearly excessive use of force against protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country, including the apparent improper use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay according to the newspaper.
"There should be a prompt, impartial and independent investigation, and accountability for those found responsible for the abuses that have taken place should be ensured," she added.
A great set of photos from the protests yesterday in Tahrir Square by Mosa'ab Elshamy. Check them out here.
|@ AlArabiya_Eng : Egyptian troops deployed around the Interior Ministry in Cairo, replacing riot police #Tahrir|
|@ TamerELG : On sale in #Tahrir: candied apples! In addition 2 almost anything else u can think of. Carnival atmosphere. Fighting continues on outskirts|
There appears to be a cease fire in place between protesters and security forces in Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Mohamed Mahmoud has seen the worst clashes in the past days.
|@ FRANCE24 : RT @FrancoisF24: #Tahrir Smoke by AUC library near interior min. Tear gas aimed at youths on rooftop. http://t.co/DhnodKdT|
The death toll in Egypt's clashes has risen to 37, Reuters writes. The Egyptian Health Ministry earlier said 32 people had been killed in the protests so far. 2,000 have been wounded.
Clashes in Egypt on Wednesday center around the Interior Ministry, the Associated Press reports. Police and army troops are using tear gas and rubble bullets to keep protesters from storming th ebuilding.
The protesters say they have no wish to storm the ministry but were preventing the police and army from evicting them from Tahrir by pinning them down a safe distance away from the massive plaza.
A building of the American University in Cairo is reportedly on fire.
|@ ianinegypt : To clarify the old AUC building on fire is at the corner of Mohamed Mahmoud and Falaky. #egypt #tahrir|
|@ kristenchick : Fireworks amid the tear gas on Mohamed Mahmoud St just now, outside AUC http://t.co/2QgCkSGq|
Nobel Peace Prize winner and Egyptian political leader Mohamed ElBaradei called the tear gas attack on Tahrir Square "a massacre" on twitter.
|@ ElBaradei : Tear gas with nerve agent & live ammunition being used against civilians in Tahrir. A massacre is taking place|
|@ sharifkouddous : Tear gas just hit the square forcing people to rush in all directions. Was on 9th floor balcony and was unbearable even here.|
Al Masry Al Youm uploaded this video on fighting earlier today in the streets near Tahrir Square.
Twitter is exploding with tweets about tear gas in Tahrir. A lot of people are running from the square, through the streets.Photo from tear gas on Bab el Louq Square, via @moftasa
Reuters' reports from earlier today. Footage shows Mohamed Mahmoud street, a crucial road connecting Tahrir Square and the ministry of the interior.