Egypt cracks down hard

May 12, 2006|By HOSSAM HAMALAWY AND MEGAN K. STACK | HOSSAM HAMALAWY AND MEGAN K. STACK,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CAIRO, Egypt -- Thousands of cane-wielding riot police clubbed and arrested protesters and journalists yesterday as the Egyptian government clamped down bloodily on a demonstration to support two pro-reform judges.

Toting shields and sticks, police and plain-clothes security men flooded the streets of the capital in the morning, sealing off roads, closing subway stations and waiting for protesters.

As chanting bands of demonstrators attempted to coalesce into a street protest, the riot police swarmed. Men and women were dragged over the asphalt, kicked and beaten bloody. Many were forced into police vehicles and taken away.

Journalists attempting to cover the protest also were assaulted.

"I've never seen the level of brutality I saw today," said Rabab Mahdi, a 31-year-old political science lecturer at the American University in Cairo.

The attack was the latest eruption amid a general crackdown on Egypt's fledgling, grass-roots democracy movement. Despite an air of relative liberty that prevailed in the country last year, Hosni Mubarak's regime now appears keen to silence dissent.

Dozens of opposition figures, including activists from the semi-underground Muslim Brotherhood, have been rounded up and jailed.

The Egyptian government has also postponed for two years local elections that were to be held in April and has renewed its controversial emergency law, which allows for arbitrary arrest and detention without charge.

Attempts to reach Egyptian officials for comment on the violence were unsuccessful.

In Washington, the State Department was critical.

"We are deeply concerned by reports of Egyptian government arrests and repression of demonstrators protesting election fraud and calling for an independent judiciary," said spokesman Sean McCormack.

Hossam Hamalawy and Megan K. Stack write for the Los Angeles Times.

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