About 300 people are being held after violent clashes outside the defence ministry in Cairo on Friday which left one soldier dead and hundreds of protesters wounded.
The ruling military council imposed a curfew in the area around the ministry on Friday and Saturday from 23:00 local time (21:00 GMT) until 06:00 local time (04:00 GMT) yesterday.
Military prosecutors said on Saturday that the 300 people detained, including a number of journalists, will be held for 15 days while they’re investigated for their part in the clashes.
In a bid to defuse the situation the military said they are releasing all the women who were arrested; activists say less than 20 women had been detained.
The head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, on Saturday attended the public funeral in Cairo of the soldier killed in the unrest.
The arrests came after a march of hundreds of protesters left Cairo’s Tahrir Square after Friday prayers to join the demonstration being staged in Abbasseya Square.
Protesters joined the march from three stages that had been set up in Tahrir.
Tens of thousands of people had performed Friday prayers in Tahrir in a mass protest to demand the end of military rule by Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
Independent MP Mahmoud al-Khodairy, head of the People’s Assembly Legislative Affairs Committee, and Sheikh Mazhar Shahin, imam of the Omar Makram Mosque, were present among the protesters in Tahrir.
The protesters chanted slogans against the SCAF and its leader, Field Marshal Tantawi, saying, ‘Down with military rule,’ ‘Get out, get out,’ ‘Down with the field marshal,’ and ‘The people want to execute the field marshal.’
Supporters of disqualified presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail announced that they would march to Abbasseya from Tahrir after Friday prayers.
State-run Al-Ahram newspaper reported that the armed forces intensified their presence outside the Defence Ministry in Abbasseya and the surrounding streets, setting up barbed wire and warning protesters to exercise restraint.
Earlier in the day, marchers had arrived in Abbasseya, some from Alexandria, and amassed in front of the barbed wire, raising black flags that read, ‘No God but God’ and chanting, ‘No God but God; the jihad, the jihad.’
The armed forces, meanwhile, read Quranic verses aloud, which protesters considered an attempt to disrupt their chants and force them to remain silent.
Political and revolutionary movements had on Thursday called for protests in Tahrir in response to recent violence in Abbasseya, which left up to 20 dead and hundreds injured.
The protest urged the military to hand over power as scheduled, the cancellation of Article 28 of the Constitutional Declaration which stipulated that the Presidential Elections Commission’s decisions cannot be challenged in court, and the punishment of those responsible for the deaths in Abbasseya.
A number of protesters set up a stage and hung banners in Tahrir as political debates on the repercussions of the Abbasseya clashes spread among people in the square.
Traffic was smooth in the streets surrounding Tahrir before noon, while the area around the Interior Ministry was heavily fortified with tightened security measures and extra troops.
Al-Ahram said the area around the Defence Ministry and Abbasseya Square, where clashes had been taking place earlier last week, was cautiously calm in the morning.
Around 500 people have been sitting-in there to demand that the military transfer power to a civilian transitional council.
The protesters raised banners that read, ‘Down with the military rule,’ and ‘The people want to bring down the regime.’ The number of tents had notably increased.
Kefaya movement spokesperson Mohamed Abdel Aziz told state-owned news service MENA on Thursday that the movement would take part in a march to Abbasseya Square, starting from Fatah Mosque in Ramses Square after Friday prayers.
He added that the movement was committed to keeping protests peaceful.
The Democratic Front of the April 6 Youth Movement said it would take part in the demonstrations ‘to show solidarity for the victims and martyrs and to denounce the policy of oppression and killing used against demonstrators.’
The front accused security forces of kidnapping two of its members en route from Sharqiya to Cairo to join protesters outside the Defence Ministry.
The Ghad al-Thawra and the Social Democratic parties and the Youth for Freedom and Justice Movement said they would also take part in the protest.
Mohamed Morsy, the Freedom and Justice Party’s presidential candidate, said that popular support for the protest is very high.
In Alexandria, political movements called for a protest denouncing the incidents of Abbasseya under the slogan, ‘The Friday of the End.’
Abul Ezz al-Hariry’s presidential campaign in Alexandria announced their participation in Friday’s protests.
The campaign released a statement on Thursday saying: ‘We hold the military council responsible for the unjustified attack on Egyptian citizens and confirm the necessity of Egyptian institutions guaranteeing the right of peaceful sit-ins and freedom of expression.’
The state-owned Al-Ahram daily reported the People’s Assembly Speaker Saad al-Katatny and Shura Council Speaker Ahmed Fahmy, both of the FJP, urged protesters to demonstrate in Tahrir Square on Friday and to avoid the Defence Ministry.
They said the right of protest is guaranteed for all as long as there is no damage to state institutions, and stressed that there was no need to head to the Defence Ministry and clash with forces deployed there.
Amnesty International has slammed Egyptian security and army forces for their failure to end clashes between protesters and unidentified armed men last Wednesday that claimed the lives of at least 11 people.
In a statement, Amnesty renewed its call for the Egyptian military to protect protesters amid increasing violence ahead of the presidential election.
The rights group said: ‘The Egyptian army and security forces initially did little to stop the clashes, which happened in the neighbourhood of Abbasseya.
‘The clashes only stopped at around 1pm after army troops, including armoured vehicles, and heavily armed riot police arrived at the scene.’
‘The army’s intervention has come hours too late,’ Philip Luther, Amnesty’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, was quoted as saying in the statement.
‘There appears to be no will within Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to prevent these tragic events.
‘After the weekend attack, the authorities should have been prepared for the violence,’ Luther said.
Early last Wednesday morning, groups of armed individuals clashed with protesters who had been staging a sit-in since the previous Friday evening near the Defence Ministry in the Abbasseya neighbourhood of Cairo.
The Health Ministry said on Wednesday that nine people were killed, with unofficial reports varying from 11 to 20.
Last Wednesday, the army said it is not responsible for the killing of protesters, stressing that it would never violently break up a sit-in.
‘The armed forces have over the last week endured what they cannot tolerate in terms of insults and attacks from demonstrators in front of the Defence Ministry,’ a statement on the military council’s official Facebook page read.