About 3,000 protesters are on the square, facing off with hundreds of black-clad riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Monday's clashes are also taking place near the Interior Ministry, which is close to Tahrir Square - the epicenter of the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February.
At least 22 people were killed Sunday in a police and army assault to evict protesters at Cairo's central Tahrir Square, news agencies reported. The police fired tear gas and attacked a makeshift field hospital, while protesters broke up pavements to hurl the chunks of concrete at police.
The assault came on the second of two days of clashes between Egypt's security and protesters calling on the ruling military to quickly announce a date for the transfer of power to a civilian administration.
AFP said at least three of the victims died of asphyxiation after police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators. Mohammed Fattouh, who runs a field hospital, told the French news agency that he received three bodies with traces of live ammunition.
Tahrir Square (Photo: Reuters)
An Associated Press reporter at the scene said police and troops chased the protesters out of most of the square as the sun was about to set over the city. But soon after night fell, hundreds of protesters were making their way back to the square, slowly approaching the heart of the square while waving the red, white and black Egyptian flags and chanting "Allahu Akbar," or God is greatest.
The protesters are demanding that the military, which took over from Mubarak in February, quickly announce a date for the handover of power to a civilian government.
"This is what they (the military) will do if they rule the country," one protester screamed while running away from the approaching security forces.
At least a dozen of the protesters' tents, along with blankets and banners, were set ablaze after nightfall and a pall of black smoke rose over the square as the sound of gunshots rang out. Protesters initially ran away in panic while being chased by army soldiers and police, hitting them with clubs. But they later regrouped at the southern entrance of the square next to the world famous Egyptian museum and began to walk back to the square. Both sides then began pelting each other with rocks.
Tensions are rising on Egypt's streets in the days leading up to Nov. 28 - the start of the first parliamentary elections since the ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. The violence reflects rising public anger over the slow pace of reforms and apparent attempts by the ruling generals to retain power over a future civilian government.
The assault followed the protest earlier on Sunday by some 5,000 people in and around Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak in February. Many chanted "freedom, freedom" as they pelted police with rocks and a white cloud of tear gas hung in the air.
"We have a single demand: The marshal must step down and be replaced by a civilian council," said protester Ahmed Hani, referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council and Mubarak's longtime defense minister. "The violence yesterday showed us that Mubarak is still in power," said Hani, who was wounded in the forehead by a rubber bullet. He spoke over chants of "freedom, freedom" by hundreds of protesters around him.
Egypt's government said the country's parliamentary election would start on time on Nov. 28, shrugging off concerns that clashes between police and protesters might derail the political process.
"The government is committed to holding elections on time," the cabinet said in a statement read out on state television Sunday.
The government said the police did not use live ammunition against protesters and thanked officers for "self-restraint in dealing with the events".
In clashes Saturday in Cairo and other major cities, two protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded. The clashes were one of only a few violent confrontations to involve the police since the uprising. The black-clad police were a hated symbol of Mubarak's regime and they have largely stayed in the background while the military took charge of security. There was no military presence in and around Tahrir Square on Saturday or Sunday.
The military, which took over from Mubarak, has repeatedly pledged to hand over power to an elected government but has yet to set a specific date. According to one timetable floated by the army, the handover will happen after presidential elections are held late next year or early in 2013.
The protesters say this is too late and accuse the military of dragging its feet. They want a handover immediately after the end of the staggered parliamentary elections, which will take place over the months to come and finish in March.
AP, Reuters, AFP contributed to the report