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Egypt Clashes: Violence Breaks Out Between Police, Protesters For 3rd Day In Tahrir Square

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By MAGGIE MICHAEL -- The Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) - Security forces fired tear gas and clashed Monday with several thousand protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the third straight day of violence that has killed at least 24 people and has turned into the most sustained challenge yet to the rule of Egypt's military.

Throughout the day, young activists demanding the military hand over power to a civilian government skirmished with black-clad police, hurling stones and firebombs and throwing back the tear gas canisters being fired by police into the square, which was the epicenter of the protest movement that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.

This is a developing story. Click here for the latest updates from our liveblog.

The night before saw an escalation of the fighting as police launched a heavy assault that tried and failed to clear protesters from the square. In a show of the ferocity of the assault, the death toll leaped from Sunday evening until Monday morning. A constant stream of injured protesters - bloodied from rubber bullets or overcome by gas - were brought into makeshift clinics set out on sidewalks around the square where volunteer doctors scrambled from patient to patient.

The eruption of violence, which began Saturday, reflects the frustration and confusion that has mired Egypt's revolution since Mubarak fell and the military stepped in to take power.

It comes only a week before Egypt is to begin the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, which many have hoped would be a significant landmark in a transition to democracy.

Instead, the vote has been overshadowed by mounting anger at the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which will continue to hold power even after the vote. Activists accuse the generals of acting increasingly in the same autocratic way as Mubarak's regime and fear that they will dominate the coming government, just as they have the current interim one they appointed months ago.

The military says it will hand over power only after presidential elections, which it has vaguely said will be held in late 2012 or early 2013. The protesters are demanding an immediate move to civilian rule.

"What does it mean, transfer power in 2013? It means simply that he wants to hold on to his seat," said a young protester, Mohammed Sayyed, referring to the head of the Supreme Council, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi.

Sayyed held two rocks, ready to throw, as he took cover from tear gas in a side street off Tahrir. His head was bandaged from what he said was a rubber bullet that hit him earlier Monday.

"I will keep coming back until they kill me," he said. "The people are frustrated. Nothing changed for the better."

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An Egyptian morgue official said the toll had climbed to 24 dead since the violence began Saturday - a jump from the toll of five dead around nightfall Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the numbers. Hundreds have been injured, according to doctors in the square.

At the makeshift field clinics around Tahrir Square, medical volunteers rushed between injured protesters staggering in, or being carried in by comrades. Most of the clinics were simply a partitioned-off sections of sidewalk.

Mohammed Mustafa, a doctor at the main clinic set up inside a nearby mosque, said his site alone was treating an average of 80 cases an hour and that many of the wounded did not want to be taken to hospital because they feared arrest. He and other doctors said most of the injured had breathing and eye problems and wounds to the face from rubber bullets. A number of protesters have lost eyes from rubber bullet hits since Saturday.

During the overnight assault, police hit one of the field clinics with heavy barrages of tear gas, forcing the staff to flee, struggling to carry out the wounded. Some were moved to a nearby sidewalk outside a Hardees fast food restaurant. A video posted on social networking sites showed a soldier dragging the motionless body of a protester along the street and leaving him in a garbage-strewn section of Tahrir.

Protesters also marched Monday other cities, including thousands of students in the coastal city of Alexandria. calling for those responsible for the violence in Cairo to be punished.

The protesters' suspicions about the military were fed by a proposal issued by the military-appointed Cabinet last week that would shield the armed forces from any civilian oversight and give the generals veto power over legislation dealing with military affairs. It would also give them considerable power over the body that is to be created after the election to draft a new constitution.

At the same time, there are deep concerns the election will bring little democratic change. Many worry that stalwarts of Mubarak's ruling party could win a significant number of seats in the next parliament because the military did not ban them from running for public office as requested by activists.

Many also believe that whoever wins the election, the military will continue to wield its domination over the next government. The current civilian government has been little more than a facade for the military, activists say. It has done little to bring about economic and political reform and has stood unable - or unwilling - to act as woes have mounted in Egypt.

On Monday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on Egypt's rulers to listen to the protesters.

"Those in charge in Egypt would be well advised to take people's political demands and justified concerns seriously and act fast to create the right environment for the upcoming elections," Westerwelle said.

He called on all sides to refrain from violence so the upcoming election can be held in "a peaceful environment" and dispatched his Middle East envoy to Cairo.

Over recent months, security around the country has fallen apart, with increased crime, sectarian violence and tribal disputes. The economy has badly deteriorated. Because of the weekend violence, Egypt's main stock index fell for a second straight day Monday, and airport officials reported a sharp drop Monday in international passenger arrivals - a further blow to the country's crucial tourism industry, which is one of the top foreign currency earners.

One of the most prominent democracy proponents in the country, Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, called on the civilian government to resign and for a national unity government to be formed "grouping all the factions so it can begin to solve the problems of Egyptians."

"Power is now in the hands of the military council, which is not qualified to run the country, and the government, which has no authority," he said on a TV political talk show late Sunday. For the next six months, "we want see the powers of the military council given completely to a civilian, national unity government, and the military goes back to just defending the borders."

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a statement Sunday night, saying it does not intend to "extend the transitional period and will not permit by any means hindering the process of democratic transition."

The military-backed Cabinet said the elections, due to start on Nov. 28, will go ahead as scheduled.

Activists have been holding occasional protests against the military in Tahrir for months, and some have triggered crackdowns by the military or police.

This weekend's violence was the most sustained fighting between the two sides. It began when security forces stormed a sit-in at Tahrir staged by several hundred protesters wounded in clashes during the 18-day uprising in January and February and frustrated by the slow pace of bringing those responsible to justice.

"The people had a revolution to live a better life, but look at everything," said 47-year-old Fayez Mohammed, his eyes red from tear gas. He pointed to rising prices, street violence and lack of accountability against members of Mubarak's regime.

"Our main demand is a date. When are you leaving power?" he said. "And don't say, 'Whenever God wills.'"

This is a developing story. Follow below for the latest updates:

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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"

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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.

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@ liamstack : Arrested the moment CSF broke truce on mansur st "@hadeelalsh: American-Egyptian film maker Jehane Nojaim arrested by mil police in #Tahrir"

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

@ seldeeb : security firing at protesters near #tahrir: http://t.co/Jsgi1MMv via @twitpic (via @Menna_Medhat)

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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.

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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

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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.

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via Al Masry Al Youm

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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

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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.

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A great set of photos from the protests yesterday in Tahrir Square by Mosa'ab Elshamy. Check them out here.

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@ AlArabiya_Eng : Egyptian troops deployed around the Interior Ministry in Cairo, replacing riot police #Tahrir

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@ TamerELG : On sale in #Tahrir: candied apples! In addition 2 almost anything else u can think of. Carnival atmosphere. Fighting continues on outskirts

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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.

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@ FRANCE24 : RT @FrancoisF24: #Tahrir Smoke by AUC library near interior min. Tear gas aimed at youths on rooftop. http://t.co/DhnodKdT

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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.

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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.

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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

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@ kristenchick : Fireworks amid the tear gas on Mohamed Mahmoud St just now, outside AUC http://t.co/2QgCkSGq

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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

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@ sharifkouddous : Tear gas just hit the square forcing people to rush in all directions. Was on 9th floor balcony and was unbearable even here.

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Al Masry Al Youm uploaded this video on fighting earlier today in the streets near Tahrir Square.

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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

Tear gas saturating bab el louq square. الغاز يشبع.      #tah... on Twitpic

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Reuters' reports from earlier today. Footage shows Mohamed Mahmoud street, a crucial road connecting Tahrir Square and the ministry of the interior.

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Around the Web

Clashes in Cairo Continue Into a Second Day - NYTimes.com

Chaos in Cairo as Mubarak backers, opponents clash - Home - Yahoo

BBC News - Egypt protests: Deadly clashes in Cairo and Alexandria

Police burn protest tents to clear Cairo's Tahrir