Soldiers stormed an anti-military protest camp outside Egypt's Cabinet building Friday, beating women with sticks and hurling chunks of concrete and glass onto protesters from the roof of the parliament in a resurgence of turmoil only a day after millions voted in parliamentary elections.
At least seven protesters were shot to death in the clashes, including a prominent Muslim cleric, activists said. The heavy-handed assault was apparently an attempt to clear out protesters who have been camped out in front of the building for three weeks demanding the ruling military leave power.
But the mayhem — which came despite promises from the army-appointed prime minister that the protesters would not be cleared by force — threatened to spark a new round of violence after deadly clashes between youth revolutionaries and security forces in November that lasted for days and left more than 40 dead.
Several women protesters cowered on the pavement as military police beat them with truncheons and long sticks. Another woman was seen bring dragged away by her hair by soldiers.
Plainclothes and uniformed security officers threw slabs of concrete and stones on protesters from atop the parliament building, according to state TV footage and videos and photos posted by protesters on social networking sites. Protesters threw fire bombs and rocks at the security officers, lighting a part of parliament on fire and chanting "Down with the military."
"It's pretty ironic that the military is throwing rocks at protesters from the parliament building, where a sign is hanging that says democracy is the power of the people," protester Mostafa Sheshtawy said.
A human rights activist said gunshot wounds killed at least seven protesters in the clashes.
Ramy Raoof of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said bodies arrived overnight at a nearby hospital. Raoof said it was difficult to tell what kind of bullets killed the protesters and that full autopsies were expected.
Hours after sunset, the crowds of protesters had grown to hundreds and clashes continued, with youths hiding behind a makeshift barrier of metal sheets and an overturned car, throwing volleys of stones at military police lined up in the broad avenue in front of the parliament and Cabinet headquarters.
There were reports of live gunfire from the rooftops. One protester, Islam Mohammed, said a fellow protester pushed him aside and was hit by a bullet in the stomach. "He took a bullet instead of me and fell to the ground. I have his blood on my shirt and hands," Mohammed said. The condition of the wounded man was not known.
Sahar Abdel-Mohsen, a youth activist, said she saw the bodies of two slain protesters brought to a Cairo hospital, both with gunshot wounds. "The blood is still dripping from the head of one of them," a 22-year-old man, she told The Associated Press. The other was shot in the chest, she said. A Health Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of he was not authorized to talk to the press, confirmed the two deaths.