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Death Tolls Rises as Thousands Fill Tahrir Square for Egypt’s Second Uprising

November 23, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: And, in Egypt, it was day five of the second uprising, and tens of thousands of protesters filled Cairo’s main square again, one day after the nation’s military leaders agreed to speed up the transition to civilian rule.

We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In the streets leading up to Tahrir Square, it was as if the army’s pledge to step down from power had never happened. A tear gas canister landed amid the crowd, but as has happened so often today, a protester picked it up and threw it back.

Most of those involved looked like teenagers. Some seemed just out for a fight. Others had seen their friends gassed or shot and they were seeking revenge, and all day, every few minutes, the blare of ambulances ferrying the injured. Protesters advanced across the barricades towards the Interior Ministry and the police, until late this afternoon, when the army moved in — peace at last, after five days of fighting, as word emerged of a ceasefire.

MAN: This is the time of ceasefire. Alhamdulillah. By our reconciliation. Alhamdulillah.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: This religious academic told us he had helped broker it and that a cleaning-up operation was under way.

MAN: Now they are cleaning the square. Come in.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Some waved their gas canisters like captured trophies. Others said any peace with Egypt’s supreme military commanders, known as SCAF, could never last until they were driven from power.

MAN: What you see of the cleaning of the street, this is just a preparing of the next battle. The war between us and in SCAF does not end and it is not finished, and until the SCAF, all the SCAF go away.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The shooting and tear gassing from the end of this street has now stopped. The army has moved in, in front of the police lines. Local committees have been set up pushing the people back towards Tahrir Square and away from the police.

And the only way the army can draw a line under this crisis is making sure that the violence does not break out again. But now it has. Just after dusk, it started, bullets and heavy tear gas, the gas spilling into Tahrir Square, where thousands have been running for cover. Egypt’s political crisis apparently is unresolved as it was when the day began.

At Cairo’s main morgue this morning, we saw two corpses arriving within 10 minutes of each other. The ambulance drivers told us both two men had been shot and killed. “The people who fired at us were wearing riot police uniforms,” said a protester who claims he saw his friend killed. “We need his parents to identify the body,” he said.

Then a coffin emerged. Inside was a 25-year-old man. One of the city coroners told us he was one of the 21 shot dead since Sunday and that gunfire had been the biggest cause of death. The dead man’s relatives gave us their mobile phone video, clearly showing the bullet wounds.

“I don’t know who to blame,” said his uncle.

Both the army and the Interior Ministry say it wasn’t them, but the killing continues. And the more coffins, the more likely it is that Egypt’s cycle of violence carries on and even more faith in Egypt’s military rulers ebbs away.