Egyptian forces swinging electrified batons and shouting the battle cry “God is great” swiftly chased off dozens of activists who had refused to end four weeks of renewed protests at Tahrir Square to pressure the country’s transitional military rulers.
Hundreds of riot police backed by armored vehicles and soldiers on Monday moved in to tear down the camp of dozens of tents after a group of holdout activists — some of them relatives of people killed in the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February — refused pleas over loudspeakers to go home. Some in the crowd hurled stones at the police.
Firing shots in the air and using clubs, Egyptian forces cleared the square within minutes.
With Mr. Mubarak’s trial on charges that he ordered the killing of protesters due to start Wednesday, the ruling military council appeared to run out of patience with the protesters, whose key demand is to see the former president and other members of his regime face justice.
Still, some were surprised by the security sweep, especially as it came on the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting that is traditionally a time of forgiveness and tolerance.
“Attacking the families of martyrs and the people protecting them in the square seems weird. I didn’t think this could happen on the first day of Ramadan,” said activist Omar Kamel.
Many see the trial of the 83-year-old president as a key test for the tense relationship between the protest movement and the ruling generals who took over when Mr. Mubarak was forced out on Feb. 11 after nearly 30 years in power. Many activists are sceptical that a military council headed by Mr. Mubarak’s long-time defence minister can deliver on promises of democratic reforms before returning the country to civilian rule.
They also accuse it of dragging its feet with prosecutions of regime figures and say it has so far failed to weed out Mubarak loyalists from the judiciary, police and civil service. Hindu