Middle East

Egypt violence: Cairo clashes go into fourth day

Mourners carry the body a protester killed in clashes in Cairo (19 December 2011)
Image caption The latest violence began just after the second round of parliamentary elections

At least two people have died in fresh clashes between protesters and troops in the Egyptian capital Cairo, bringing the death toll since Friday to 13.

Security forces moved into Tahrir Square before dawn, using batons and tear gas to drive out the protesters, who retaliated by throwing stones.

By dawn, the protesters returned to the square, while the troops again manned barricades in nearby streets.

The ruling generals said the clashes were a plot to destabilise the country.

Gen Adel Emara, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), said there was "systematic" plan to destroy the Egyptian state by shaking confidence in its security forces.

"From the start of the revolution, evil forces have wanted to drag Egypt into a chaos, putting army into confrontation with the people," he added.

Gen Emara also insisted soldiers and police had shown "self-restraint".

Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was "deeply concerned" by the violence and urged the authorities "to respect and protect the universal rights of all Egyptians".

"Those who are protesting should do so peacefully and refrain from acts of violence," Mrs Clinton added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also said he was highly alarmed at the "excessive use of force employed by the security forces".

In recent weeks, thousands have taken to the streets, demanding the ruling military council hand over power to a civilian government.

The council assumed presidential powers after Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February in the wake of a popular uprising. It has pledged to hand power to an elected president by July.

Patches of blood

On Monday, the security forces moved into Tahrir Square at about 03:00 (01:00 GMT), seeking to drive the demonstrators out, witnesses said.

The protesters fled down nearby streets away from the cabinet office and parliament building, where they have been throwing stones and petrol bombs at security forces.

By dawn, the demonstrators had begun returning to the square, and security forces took up positions again behind barricades.

"Rocks and Molotov cocktails are being thrown on both sides," one witness, Ahmed Raafat, told the BBC. "Water canons are used against protesters, and from time to time we hear gunshots coming from the security forces' side."

Image caption Soldiers and police have been condemned for beating protesters, including women, on the ground

The BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo says there are patches of blood on the ground in Tahrir Square and many activists have fresh injuries.

The health ministry said at least two people were killed in Monday's clashes.

However, a doctor at a field hospital in Tahrir Square told the Associated Press that six people had died. He said they all had gunshot wounds.

The latest violence began just after the second round of parliamentary elections, which Egyptians hope will bring stability and civilian rule.

In recent days, soldiers and police in riot gear have been filmed beating activists with sticks after they had fallen to the ground - scenes which have brought international condemnation.

One photograph taken on Saturday showed two Egyptian soldiers dragging a woman on the ground by her clothing, exposing her underwear.

Some Egyptians have expressed outrage, but others want to focus on voting not continuing unrest, our correspondent adds.

Islamist parties are on track to win a majority in the People's Assembly.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party has said it received 39% of votes cast for party lists in the second round of voting last week. The ultraconservative Salafist al-Nour Party said its list received 30%.

Of the 160 individual seats contested in the second phase, the Freedom and Justice Party won 29, while al-Nour won 23. The liberal Wafd Party and Egyptian Bloc won nine and seven seats respectively.

The rest will be determined in run-off votes later this week.