Egypt police attack demonstrators

Officers suppress protest

violence precedes nation's 1st democratic elections

July 31, 2005|By Megan K. Stack | Megan K. Stack,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CAIRO, Egypt - Dozens of protesters were kicked, beaten with clubs and thrown into trucks yesterday by hundreds of police and plainclothes agents who rushed the streets to stifle a protest against President Hosni Mubarak.

The beatings occurred in Cairo days after Mubarak announced his candidacy in Egypt's first presidential election. The regime has portrayed September's voting as a ground-breaking step toward democracy. It would be the first time that Egyptians have had a chance to chose a president from among multiple candidates.

Critics insist that the election is an artifice designed to ease international pressures from the United States and elsewhere without stripping Mubarak of power. The beatings yesterday were a reminder of the gap between Mubarak's stated intentions to create a more democratic Egypt and the daily reality of this tumultuous campaign season.

"What happened today was a massacre, a sick joke," said Aida Seif al Dawla, a rights activist who was among the demonstrators beaten yesterday. "American people should understand that this is Mubarak, Bush's ally."

A collection of opposition parties and anti-Mubarak organizations had called for a protest a few hours before sunset in Tahrir Square, but the demonstration was choked off before it began. Police and security agents ringed the square, and hundreds of plainclothes officers were in a loose formation in front of restaurants and shops. Tourists who paused on the sidewalks were ordered to keep moving.

The frustrated demonstrators broke into smaller groups and scattered down side streets. Police gave chase. Demonstrators erupted into chants of "Freedom, freedom, where are you?" and "Down With Hosni Mubarak!" Security agents came running toward them with clubs held high. Demonstrators were beaten and kicked.

This isn't the first time Mubarak's reforms have been marred by street violence. When Egyptians went to the polls in May to vote "yes" or "no" on a constitutional amendment calling for presidential elections, security forces and Mubarak supporters cracked down on demonstrators and journalists. Dozens of protesters were beaten badly.

Days ago, the communications director of Mubarak's campaign characterized the violence of referendum day as a mistake that would not happen again.

"There is a commitment that this should not be repeated," Mohamed Kamel said. "The [ruling] party has already condemned what happened. ... There will be no freelancers, no rogue elements."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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