One killed in Cairo clashes as riot police storm Tahrir Square

Deadly protests come a day after demonstrators defaced new monument to those killed by the military in 2011

Demonstrators deface a new memorial with red paint, representing the blood of "martyrs," in Tahrir Square.
Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

At least one person has been killed in Cairo after Egyptian riot police stormed Tahrir Square late Tuesday to disperse protesters, a health ministry official said.

Police backed by armored vehicles fired teargas and shots after clashes in the square to scatter protesters who had gathered to mark the anniversary of deadly 2011 demonstrations.

One man was killed when he was struck by birdshot during the clashes, head of emergency services Ahmed al-Ansary told Agence France-Presse. It was not immediately clear if he was a protester.

The clashes broke out Tuesday near the Arab League headquarters at one corner of the iconic square, with the protesters chanting against both deposed President Mohamed Morsi and the military that overthrew him in July.

Ansari said 16 people were injured in the violence, including a man with a birdshot wound to the eye. The protesters also covered their faces to block the teargas.

“I am here to retaliate for my friends killed in Mohamed Mahmud. No one has brought them their rights,” said one young protester who gave his name as Mohamed. In 2011, at least 43 protesters were killed over several days of clashes with police in the Mohamed Mahmud street clashes just off Tahrir Square.

The interior ministry said in a statement it had arrested 14 “rioters,” including one in possession of a home-made shotgun, and accused the protesters of trying to storm the Arab League’s headquarters.

The country has been deeply divided between Morsi's supporters and those of the military, and Tuesday's protesters accused both sides of having betrayed the goals of a 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

They were marking the anniversary of week-long protests in 2011 against the military junta that took power between Mubarak's overthrow and Morsi's election in June 2012.

The Nov. 19, 2011 clashes were the first serious revolt faced by the military junta that had taken charge after Mubarak’s resignation in February 2011.

Government failures

Late on Monday, protesters defaced a newly inaugurated monument to those killed in the mass protests that helped unseat two presidents in less than three years.

Hundreds of angry opponents of the army gathered in Tahrir Square on Monday evening after Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi inaugurated the monument.

The attackers, mostly men in their early 20s, used rocks early Tuesday to chip away at the large foundation stone in Tahrir Square and sprayed it with red graffiti denouncing ousted President Mohamed Morsi and Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, the military chief who removed Morsi in July after days of mass protests demanding that the Islamist leader step down.

The vandalism underscored the deep scars left by the political turmoil in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in 2011.

Protesters say they feel betrayed by successive governments whose main failures, in their view, have been their inability to dismantle the Mubarak regime and ensure retribution for the hundreds killed at the hands of police and soldiers since 2011.

The groups that participated in that uprising and the one this past summer say that since Morsi's ouster on July 3, police have returned to the tactics they used during Mubarak's 29-year-rule. They also say that widespread human rights abuses are being committed under the pretext of fighting a war against what the government has labeled terrorism.

The memorial, the protesters argued, does not honor the dead, as much as it tries to paper over the deep divides that remain over Egypt's future. Many have accused the military of seeking to restore its domination of the country at the expense of freedoms. 

"We don't want to be ruled by soldiers, and we don't want to be ruled by a Brotherhood that peddles religion," the men chanted around the damaged foundation in Tahrir Square, according to The Associated Press.

"I want to say a word in your ear el-Sisi, don't even dream of becoming my president," they chanted. El-Sisi has not ruled out a run in next year's presidential election.

Human Rights Watch says Egypt's political violence has claimed more than a thousand lives, as authorities neglect to conduct an investigation into allegations of police brutality.

Since the coup, militants, some with al-Qaeda links, have fought Egyptian security forces and the army in the strategic Sinai Peninsula.

Elsewhere, there have been bombings and large-scale attacks, including an assassination attempt against the interior minister, who is in charge of the police.  

In one of the latest attacks, a senior security officer in charge of monitoring Islamist groups, including Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, was gunned down Sunday in Cairo's Nasr City district, a Brotherhood stronghold and home to several military barracks.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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