Egyptian forces clear Tahrir Square

Protesters gathered in Tahrir to mark the 2011 killing of 42 people by security forces in Cairo’s Mohammad Mahmoud Street

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One person was killed as Egyptian riot police backed by armored vehicles stormed Cairo’s Tahrir Square late Tuesday to disperse protesters following a demonstration to commemorate 42 people killed two years ago in clashes with security forces.

Egypt is divided between supporters of ousted President Mohammad Mursi and those of the military that overthrew him, but Tuesday’s protesters accused both sides of betraying the goals of a 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

“Down with the military regime,” the protesters chanted earlier in the day, a common refrain during the period of army-led government that followed Mubarak’s downfall, Reuters reported.

A security official said the police decided to clear the square after protesters had tried to storm the headquarters of the Arab League. The authorities would allow them to remain in nearby streets, the official added.

The clashes had erupted near the Arab League’s headquarters at the corner of the iconic square, where millions had rallied to pressure Mubarak and more than two years later Mursi to resign.

Police fired tear gas and shots at the protesters, who were hurling stones, before storming the square with armored vehicles, scattering the few hundred protesters into side streets.

Health ministry official Ahmed al-Ansari told AFP 16 people were injured in the violence, including a man with a birdshot wound to the eye.

The protesters covered their faces to block the tear gas.

“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.

At least 43 protesters were killed over several days of clashes with police in the Mohamed Mahmud street clashes just off Tahrir Square in 2011.

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

The military handed power to Mursi in June 2012, after he won the country’s first free election, but ousted him a year later following mass protests demanding his resignation.

Mursi’s ouster ushered in a massive crackdown on his Islamist followers that killed more than 1,000 in clashes. Thousands have been arrested.

Tuesday’s clashes, however, took place between protesters who oppose both Mursi and the military appointed interim government.

Some of the protesters had been outraged by a monument inaugurated in the square on the eve of the Mohamed Mahmud anniversary.

By Tuesday, protesters had defaced the monument to those killed in the mass protests that helped unseat two presidents in less than three years.

Protesters accused the government and police of revising the history of the Mohamed Mahmud carnage amid a wave of pro-military nationalism following Mursi’s overthrow.

“Celebrating in praise of the army is a provocation. We are here today to mourn the martyrs,” said Magda al-Masrya, 50, as she took part in a protest in the square early on Tuesday.

Another protester, Reni Rafat, told AFP: “What we need is trials of those responsible (for the deaths in November 2011) and not celebrations”.

Mahmoud Hisham, a 21-year-old student, said: “The revolution is still not over.

“In three years we had three systems and three traitors -- Mubarak, the military and the Brotherhood.”

Neither the Brotherhood nor the Tamarod movement which organized the mass protests that led up to Mursi’s overthrow had called for Tuesday’s rival demonstrations.

Infographic: Protesters rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square
Infographic: Protesters rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square

(With AFP and Reuters)