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Protests against Egypt’s military rulers turn violent

By and Muhammad Mansour,

CAIRO — Egyptian security forces fired warning shots and tear gas canisters Saturday night to break up hours-long clashes that began when hundreds of protesters were prevented from marching to the Defense Ministry.

The battles in Cairo marked one of the most violent episodes of unrest since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February and underscored widening rifts between factions that stood united during the revolution.

Witnesses said scores were wounded as demonstrators denouncing the country’s ruling military council engaged in street battles with supporters of the armed forces. Egyptian state television said as many as 150 people were wounded in the fighting, which reportedly included rock-throwing, sword-wielding and molotov cocktails.

Some protesters in recent weeks have been calling for the ouster of the military council that assumed control after Mubarak was forced out. They say the generals have failed to hold officials accountable for crimes and have continued resorting to the kind of heavy-handed tactics that spawned the revolt.

At the height of Saturday’s clashes in the Abbasiya district of Cairo, demonstrators began chanting “peaceful, peaceful.” Some demanded the immediate departure of the head of the military council, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.

“We are not afraid,” said Mahitab el-Gelani, 30, who was among those seeking the ouster of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. “We are saying step down without blood, but the SCAF wants blood. SCAF is part of the regime, so they must step down.”

Military officials have been calling for unity, warning that fringe activists are attempting to drive a wedge between civilians and the armed forces.

“We should all gather around a unified aim in which Egypt comes first,” Tantawi said in a televised speech Saturday.

Mansour is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Sulafeh Munzir al-Shami also contributed to this report.

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