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In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Tensions Escalate Between Protesters, Police

November 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: And to the escalating tensions and rising tear gas in Egypt.

Mayhem in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, seat of the Egyptian revolution. Tear gas and rubber bullets filled the air, as clashes between police and protesters moved into a third day and night. In addition to the killings, thousands have been injured in running battles that surged in and out of central Cairo. A makeshift field hospital has been busy.

KHALED AL-MASRY, Egypt (through translator): Some people can bring syringes. Some people can bring bandages. Others can bring cotton. This is what we are able to do.

RAY SUAREZ: Mounting popular discontent with Egypt’s military government was the spark for the worst violence since January’s uprising.

It spread from Cairo to Alexandria in the north and to Suez in the east. Last February, the military ended President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule and promised a swift transition to civilian government. But the halting pace of change brought thousands into the square on Friday, a volatile mix of secular and even more numerous Islamist forces calling for the military to step back.

YASSER MOHAMED, Egypt (through translator): We want Egypt to move on, whether it’s run by Islamist Sharia law or by a civilian party, but we need Egypt to move on before it sinks to a point where we can’t help it or save it from drowning.

RAY SUAREZ: Marches gave way to melees on Saturday as police sought to move protesters out of the square, even firing birdshot.

SAMEH AL SAIAD, Egypt (through translator): The military in the same old style of the ousted Mubarak regime attacked protesters camped in Tahrir Square. They use the same filthy old style of Egyptian security and thugs. Egypt has not changed. In fact, it’s getting worse.

MAN (through translator): The police force still has the same old regime controlling it. The police didn’t change. Their tools never changed. They still use excessive force against protesters.

RAY SUAREZ: The violence cast a pall over the first planned step away from that old regime. Next Monday, a months-long and complex parliamentary election process is scheduled to begin. A presidential vote has already been pushed back into late 2012 or 2013.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, which runs the military, has said it would only hand over power then. The protesters say Egypt has waited long enough, and real reform must come now.

IBRAHIM MOHAMED, Egypt (through translator): We need a civil presidential council elected by Tahrir and elected by the Egyptian people, figures that are politically agreed upon by the people, so that these figures rule the country and create a transitional government and conduct fair and free elections that will lead to a president and constitution.

RAY SUAREZ: In Washington today, White House spokesman Jay Carney called for some perspective and peace in the streets.

JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: It’s important to step back and remember how far Egypt has traveled this year. And it’s important that Egypt continues to move to make that transition to the democracy that the people of Egypt demanded. And, as a result of their demands, they ended a multi-decade dictatorship. So, we urge, again, restraint on all sides and for the process towards the transition to continue.

RAY SUAREZ: By tonight, the largest crowds yet had filed into Tahrir Square, some calling for a second revolution. And, as the crowds grew, the members of the interim civilian cabinet, appointed by the military, submitted their resignations to the Supreme Council.