Protesters driven from Cairo’s Tahrir Square
CAIRO — Hundreds of military police officers and dozens of armed men in civilian clothes drove protesters from Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday, ripping down tents and smashing signs the protesters had displayed through their weeks of protest.
Human rights advocates said they had confirmed the names of 39 people who had been arrested and that about 150 were detained.
Witnesses said that the army stood by as armed civilians beat the demonstrators.
“When the army started moving, protesters cheered them, thinking they would defend them against the thugs,” said Michael Sadler, an American tourist who was heading to Tahrir Square to renew his visa. Instead, Sadler said, “The army joined in and attacked the protesters.
“One of the thugs waved his bat at me while another was brutally beating a protester,” Sadler said. “I turned around and tried entering the square from another street. I saw the army attacking protesters, and I ran away.”
Dozens of people were reported injured or detained. Television footage from the square showed military police officers beating protesters as they dragged them to armored personnel carriers. Witnesses said soldiers chased two foreign reporters from the square.
The breakup of the demonstration occurred two days before the scheduled start of the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak on charges that he plotted the deaths of protesters during the 18 days of demonstrations that led to his resignation.
The head of the Cairo Security Department, Gen. Mohsen Morad, said the move was necessary because of the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during daylight hours. He denied that there had been any violence against demonstrators.
“Evacuating the square fulfilled the wishes of the Egyptian people,” Morad said. “Blocking Tahrir Square paralyzed the city’s traffic. It is very difficult for people to tolerate this in the fasting month of Ramadan.”