Middle East

Clashes at Egypt demonstrations for political change

An Egyptian protester, his face painted with the colours of the national flag, stands in front of army soldiers blocking the way to the ruling military council's headquarters in Cairo, 24 July 2011
Image caption The Egyptian army blockaded the road leading to the defence ministry with barbed wire

Egyptian security forces have fired tear gas to disperse pro-reform protesters who clashed with groups loyal to the ruling military council.

Demonstrators were marching to Cairo's defence ministry on Saturday when, witnesses say, they were pelted with rocks, stones and bottles by loyalists.

It was the second time in two days that crowds had attempted to march on the headquarters of the military council.

The protests came despite a pledge by the council's chief to build democracy.

In a rare public address, Egypt's military leader Field Marshall Tantawi had tried to defuse the situation.

He praised the youth who led February's uprising against then-President Hosni Mubarak, and pledged to build a democratic state which promoted freedom and the rights of citizens.

Field Marshall Tantawi said he would "pave the way for the pillars of a democratic state, which promotes freedom, the rights of citizens through free and fair parliamentary elections, a new constitution and the election of a president chosen by the people".

But the ruling military council, in a statement on its Facebook page, also accused protesters of trying to drive a wedge between the army and the people.

The army then blockaded the road with barbed wire and armoured personnel carriers and fired shots into the air.

Demonstrators said the march was a protest against the violent response of the military to another demonstration in Alexandria on Friday calling for political reform.

On Thursday Egypt's new cabinet was sworn in, the second reshuffle since February's convulsions that overthrew President Mubarak.

But protesters camped out in Cairo's Tahrir Square have kept up the pressure, and the military council is a target of the protesters' ire.

They accuse the council of failing to take radical enough action against Mr Mubarak and members of his deposed regime, and are demanding faster political and economic reforms.

The confrontation has been brewing for weeks, even perhaps since Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo.

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