Egyptian military police beat protesters Saturday to clear them from outside the Cabinet office where they were trying to camp out overnight to press demands for sweeping political reforms and the dismissal of remnants of ousted President Hosni Mubarak's regime.
The clash signaled a tougher line from Egypt's military rulers, who had avoided violently confronting anti-government protesters in the streets while promising to meet their demands for democratic reform and return the country to civilian rule.
The protest movement, however, is growing impatient, and tens of thousands rallied in Cairo's Tahrir Square throughout the day on Friday to keep up the pressure and, in particular, to demand the dismissal of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who was appointed by Mubarak.
About 150 protesters tried to spend the night outside the Cabinet office near Tahrir Square.
After midnight, when a curfew goes into effect, military police moved in to clear them away and beat protesters, some of whom tried to resist, according to Shady Ghazali, a leading youth activist who said he witnessed the clash.
"One man was slapped so hard he bled from his face," Ghazali said.
He and at least four others were detained and taken to a lockup that already held dozens of other protesters who were apparently arrested throughout the day, he said. Some of them showed bruises and other signs of mistreatment, he said.
"The military police is behaving like the state security," Ghazali said, referring to the hated internal security force that Mubarak's regime used to crack down on dissent and which was accused of torture.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces later apologized for the military's response and said the situation "wasn't intentional." In a statement, the council promised such confrontations would not happen again.
When the military first appeared on the streets early on in the 18-day uprising, protesters welcomed the soldiers, seeing them as potential allies in their push to oust Mubarak. The military was also viewed as protectors after days of violent clashes between protesters and police forces.
Crowds in Tahrir Square had frequently chanted, "The people and the army are one hand together."
But two weeks after Mubarak's Feb. 11 ouster, protesters are pressing the military to speed up reforms and purge the caretaker government of officials appointed by Mubarak. They also want the repeal of emergency laws and the release of political prisoners.
Continue to protest
Protesters say they will stage large rallies every Friday until their demands are met, and some are skeptical of the military's resolve to make good on all of its promises, noting that it benefited from the old regime.
The Egyptian military took over from Mubarak when he stepped down, but assigned government affairs to a caretaker Cabinet until elections can be held.
Since Mubarak's fall, the military rulers have disbanded both houses of parliament and promised constitutional reforms that will allow wider participation in elections, to be held within six months. They have also promised to repeal emergency laws that give security forces largely unchecked powers, though only when conditions permit – a caveat that worries protesters.
The military authorities have moved against members of Mubarak's regime, arresting a number of former ministers and prominent businessmen on corruption allegations.
Some two dozen ex-ministers and business leaders are under investigation. Protesters have often mentioned corruption as a key motive behind their movement.
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