By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: Attempts to reach a truce between protesters and police failed on Monday as protesters called for a million-man march on Tuesday.
In the early hours of Monday, Sheikh Mazhar Shahine of the Omar Makram Mosque tried to negotiate a truce between both sides clashing since Saturday. The efforts failed to stop the clashes that by Monday evening had left 23 dead and hundreds injured.
At around 2 pm, a Central Security Forces (CSF) officer approached the protesters as the two sides faced off on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. The officer suggested that police would stop firing teargas canisters, rubber bullets and pellets and the protesters would stop throwing rocks.
A few protesters climbed up a CSF truck and stood alongside the CSF officer calling on the rest of the protesters to accept the truce. Other protesters demanded the release of those arrested over the past couple of days.
Minutes later, a handful of protesters resumed rock throwing as others urged them to stop.
“Some of the protesters threw rocks for no reason at the central security soldiers when we were about to reach a truce,” Kimya’ey Hassan, 28, said.
“These are infiltrators who want the clashes to go on,” he added.
Other protesters said they threw rocks because they couldn’t trust the police. “They are backstabbers who will crack down on us when we aren’t looking,” said Karim Abdou, 24.
The protesters maintained that they didn’t want to break into the interior ministry as alleged by officials and state media. They said they were just protecting themselves against riot police.
The Ministry of Interior said it had sought the help of political leaders who failed to contain the situation. It said the forces only aim to protect the ministry headquarters against “rioters.” Twenty three officers and 81 soldiers were injured, the ministry said in a statement on Monday.
The demonstrators succeeded in pushing riot police down Mohamed Mahmoud Street past the intersection with El-Falaky Street. At around 2:30 pm CSF forces started targeting El-Falaky Street with successive tear gas bombs to prevent protesters from retreating there for air.
Thousands gathered in the safety of Tahrir Square, whose relative calm was only interrupted by the ferrying of the injured.
A few thousand students marched from Cairo University to Tahrir Square carrying medical supplies to support protesters and chanting for the fall of military rule.
“The people in Tahrir are dying for no reason,” Nada Soleiman, student at the faculty of English literature at Cairo University, told Daily News Egypt.
“If police forces want to end a riot in any country, they aim at the legs, not the eyes and faces of protesters to kill them,” she added.
Others joined Tahrir Square from Ain Shams University to express their solidarity.
The protesters called on SCAF to hand over power to a civilian authority, with some saying that it had to step down now and others saying that it needed to leave power no later than April 2012.
SCAF expressed its “regret” for the violent clashes, in a statement on Sunday. The ruling military council said that it was still committed to the road map it set forth to hand over power to a civilian authority.
Upon taking over power in February the military said it would leave by the end of the year after holding both parliamentary and presidential elections. In the past couple of months the ruling generals indicated they would stay in power till the end of 2012 or early 2013.
Sunday’s statement stressed that SCAF didn’t want to extend the transitional period or stay in power.
Protesters slammed SCAF’s statements saying that it was responsible for the killing of 23 protesters and the injury of about 1,000.
“The protesters killed by SCAF yesterday during its attack on us were more than those killed by the police,” claimed Khaled Mohamed, 19.
Deputy Head of the Central District General Saied Abbas told reporters Monday that the army was only deployed to protect the Ministry of Interior, adding that if the protesters needed protection, they would protect them.
Protesters in Tahrir said they heard that SCAF wanted to form a barrier between riot police and protesters to prevent further clashes, but nothing was confirmed.
“The people won’t be able to trust SCAF after all the people who were killed by riot police under SCAF’s eyes and consent,” said Mohamed Fotouh, a mass communication student at Cairo University.
At the morgue
The stench of the piled up bodies in the Zeinhom Morgue was fueled by the wails and screams of the families standing outside.
According to Basma Zahran, a lawyer with the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, 22 bodies arrived to the morgue, eight of which were killed by live ammunition.
By Monday evening, 11 bodies were carried out while the rest were waiting for burial permits from the Qasr El-Nil Prosecution Office. While most were kept inside the fridge, six other corpses were laid on the ground. Workers there said two corpses haven’t been moved since Sunday.
A woman suffered a nervous breakdown after she identified her son’s body inside.
Mother of 20-year-old Mohamed Beshir, cried as she sat down outside the morgue. As she mourned her son, she called on the media to tell people to stop going to Tahrir Square.
“[Egypt’s authorities] are killing our youth! Enough with Tahrir; don’t go there,” she said.
Others blamed the ruling military council.
“We work hard and raise our children and after that Tantawy and his generals kill them. Maybe because they do not know what it means to be poor and run after your child. Even the British did not do this to us,” said a woman who refused to give her name, only saying that a young relative of hers died.
On the left side of the morgue, father of Mostafa Mohamed, a 20-year-old college student, was sitting crying. He said his son was killed as he helped a medical crew save people trapped inside a burning building earlier on Monday. Reports said fired teargas canisters landed in a balcony on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, causing the fire.
“The smoke in the building made us lose each other … After few hours someone called me and told me that Mostafa is in the morgue, he was shot in his head,” said Doctor Mohamed Gamal who was part of the medical crew. –Additional reporting by Omnia Al Desoukie
Protesters carry the injured through Tahrir Square from the frontline of the clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. (Daily News Egypt Photo/ Hassan Ibrahim)