Middle East

Egypt protesters attacked by 'armed civilians' in Cairo

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Media captionProtesters gather outside ministry and secret police offices in Cairo

Pro-democracy activists in Egypt have been attacked by men in plain clothes, armed with knives, outside the interior ministry in Cairo, reports say.

It is the first such attack since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last month.

Protesters have stormed ministry and secret police offices to obtain documents they say show evidence of repression under the former president.

New PM Essam Sharaf has vowed to reform the security apparatus and has named a cabinet to govern until elections.

'Serving the citizens'

On Sunday, men in plain clothes armed with swords and petrol bombs confronted the pro-democracy activists after soldiers dispersed a Cairo rally they were holding to demand reform of the security services, eyewitnesses say.

"The army started firing in the air to disperse us," Mohammed Fahmy told Reuters news agency.

"We tried to run away but we were met by 200 thugs in plain clothes carrying sharp weapons."

Mr Fahmy put the number of protesters at 2,000.

Dismantling the security apparatus has been one of the key demands of the protest movement, the BBC's Magdi Abdelhadi in Cairo says.

The events of the weekend have been described as the Egyptian storming of the Bastille, he says.

The secret police apparatus was the nerve centre of the Mubarak government.

Activists who stormed the Cairo headquarters told the BBC they had found evidence of a parallel state structure that monitored all aspects of life in Egypt.

Mohammed Abdelfattah, a protester who raided the headquarters in Nasr City, said: "We found transcribed phone calls between university professors, political activists, opposition figures."

Evidence of torture was also found, he added.

The new prime minister told a crowd of thousands in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday that he hoped Egypt's security apparatus would in future "serve the citizens".

Analysts say his new cabinet, which has still to be approved by the country's interim military rulers, is likely to be accepted by the protesters because it contains no Mubarak loyalists.

He named as the new interior minister Maj Gen Mansour el-Essawy, a former Cairo security chief.

Nabil Elaraby was named as the new foreign minister, and Mahmoud al-Guindy the new justice minister.