Two protesters and a policeman have been killed in the anti-government demonstrations in Cairo and several other cities, an Egyptian interior ministry official has said.
The two protesters were killed during a demonstration in the city of Suez. The official said one of them had respiratory problems and died as a result of tear gas inhalation and the other was killed by a rock thrown during the protest.
The policeman died during the protest in Cairo. The official said he was hit in the head by a rock.
Thousands of anti-government protesters, some hurling rocks and climbing atop an armoured police truck, clashed with riot police in the centre of Cairo in a Tunisia-inspired demonstration to demand the end of Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30 years in power.
After a day of violence, thousands of demonstrators stood their ground in downtown Cairo’s vast Tahrir Square, steps away from parliament and other government buildings. They promised to camp out overnight, setting the stage for an even more dramatic confrontation.
Throughout the day, police blasted crowds with water cannons and set upon them with batons and acrid clouds of tear gas in an attempt to clear demonstrators crying out “Down with Mubarak” and demanding an end to Egypt’s grinding poverty, corruption, unemployment and police abuses.
Tuesday’s demonstration, the largest Egypt has seen for years, began peacefully, with police showing unusual restraint in what appeared to be a calculated strategy by the government to avoid further sullying the image of a security apparatus widely criticised as corrupt and violent.
With discontent growing over economic woes, and the toppling of Tunisia’s president still resonating in the region, Egypt’s government – which normally responds with swift retribution to any dissent – needed to tread carefully.
But as crowds filled Tahrir Square – waving Egyptian and Tunisian flags and adopting the same protest chants that rang out in the streets of Tunis – security personnel changed tactics and the protest turned violent. Around 10,000 protesters packed the square, the interior ministry said.
The sight of officers beating demonstrators had particular resonance because Tuesday was also a national holiday honouring the much-feared police.