Middle East

Egyptian protesters condemn security forces' tactics

Protesters assist an injured fellow protester into an ambulance after clashes with the army and riot police
Image caption Medics have reported a lot of injured people shot in the eyes with rubber bullets

The scale of casualties, and types of injuries, from clashes between security forces and protesters in Egypt, has fuelled anger against the authorities, says the BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo.

Egyptian political activists have used social media to circulate video footage showing several blood-covered corpses, taken at Cairo's Zeinhum morgue.

"All the fridges are full," a middle-aged man yells out. "My son is dead here. It's sinful."

"They shot him in his head and his chest," he goes on. "This is a live bullet. This was not normal shooting".

Such claims have proliferated in recent days as the death toll from the latest clashes between police and protesters has climbed higher than in any previous incidents since the uprising at the beginning of the year.

More than 30 people have been killed and many hundreds injured.

In its latest statements, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) has strongly denied using excessive force. "We did not fire one bullet at the chest of any Egyptian citizen," the military leader, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, said on Tuesday.

Serious injuries

Scaf also says it did not use "gas bombs" against demonstrators in Cairo and elsewhere. The Health Ministry dismissed rumours that nerve gas was in circulation.

Medics at field hospitals set up in disused buildings and on pavements around Tahrir Square have reported a lot of casualties shot in the eyes with rubber bullets, hit by buckshot and overcome by tear gas.

"I was in Tahrir Square during the 25 January revolution and I saw a lot of injured people, but this time I think there are more serious injuries," says Dr Omar Qassar who is working on makeshift premises.

"I've seen two people hit by shotgun pellets in their chest and abdomen. One died before he got to hospital."

"The tear gas is weird," he adds. "In January it was much lighter. This stuff is very strong, just smelling it I get dizzy. We've seen a few cases of convulsions."

Doctors have collected samples of the canisters, which bear the name of a US manufacturer, and sent them to laboratories for analysis.

With residents of districts of central Cairo complaining of ill-effects, there are also suggestions that tear gas has simply been used in a heavy-handed fashion.

'Deeply shocking'

The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has joined political forces in Egypt calling for an independent inquiry into the killing of protesters by military and security forces.

"Some of the images coming out of Tahrir, including the brutal beating of already subdued protesters are deeply shocking as are the reports of unarmed protesters being shot in the head," she said.

"There should be a prompt, impartial and independent investigation and accountability for those found responsible for the abuses that have taken place should be ensured."

For many Egyptians, YouTube video that showed a police officer apparently celebrating after blinding a protester he had shot has proved particularly shocking.

Image caption Egyptians are asking whether parliamentary elections should take place after the recent violence

In Tahrir Square, a demonstrator, Dina, holds up a sign showing three prominent revolutionaries with permanent eye injuries. It says: "An eye for an eye - end of discussion".

"I'm trying to show the shame of the Interior Ministry. I'm trying to show what kind of police we have to protect us," she says. "I don't accept this. It's like nothing has changed. We lost a lot of fine men but nothing has changed."

Under President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian police had a reputation for corruption and brutality. Public anger intensified towards them as they tried to suppress mass rallies at the start of the uprising in January and then disappeared, leaving the streets unprotected.

After the revolution, the former Interior Minister, Habib al-Adly, was jailed for 12 years for fraud and money laundering. He remains on trial for ordering police to use live ammunition on protesters.

Other top officers lost their jobs and the hated State Security Investigations Agency was disbanded.

However, human rights groups say that the powers of Egypt's riot police, the Central Security Forces, should also have been curtailed as part of wide-ranging reforms.

"Since February we have been calling for a complete internal restructuring of the Ministry of Interior," says Ghada Shahbander of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights. "They have no interest in reform. Many officers close to al-Adly are still there."

She questions whether parliamentary elections due to begin on Monday should take place after the recent violence.

"A safe environment is a prerequisite for an election. What are the chances of that now? This police force cannot be given the responsibility of securing an election," she says.

For its part, Scaf says it has prioritised the restoration of security. In his latest address, Field Marshal Tantawi said the Interior Ministry's "efficiency has been gradually improving, despite the attempts to weaken its drive and break its will."