Egyptian protesters storm security building
HUNDREDS of Egyptian protesters attempted to storm a building belonging to the internal security service in Alexandria today in an outpouring of anger at the agency blamed for some of the worst human rights violations during ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
Officers inside the building opened fire on the crowd, injuring three demonstrators, according to a medic and one of the protesters.
Tensions remain high even as Egypt’s military, which took control of the country after Mr Mubarak stepped down on February 11, takes steps to meet the protesters’ demands before a promised return to civilian rule.
One of the protesters’ key remaining demands is for the dismantling of Egypt’s State Security Agency. Earlier on Friday local time, crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square celebrated the military’s choice of a new prime minister to replace the one Mr Mubarak had appointed.
The new premier, Essam Sharaf, was carried on the shoulders of demonstrators to a podium in the square from which he promised the estimated 10,000 people gathered there that he would do his best to meet their demands.
In Alexandria, where some of the uprising’s worst violence occurred, around 1000 protesters encircled the State Security Agency building after nightfall and demanded that the officers inside come out or they would storm the building. Several fire bombs were hurled and four police cars were set ablaze, though one protester insisted they were not to blame and only threw rocks.
Shots were fired at the crowd and three people were injured, said an ambulance medic who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release information to journalists. “It was coming from inside the building,” said protester Mahinour el-Masri. She said a friend was among the wounded and had been hit by gunfire in the stomach.
Protesters then stormed into the building and scuffled with riot police inside before military forces intervened and took control of the building. El-Masri said they found shredded documents and files inside. The Interior Ministry denied officers fired on protesters and accused the crowds that entered the building of seizing weapons and holding guards hostage.
A smaller crowd also marched toward a State Security building in Cairo but was stopped by soldiers from getting close. Egypt’s internal security services and police forces, which were given a free hand by emergency laws under Mr Mubarak to suppress dissent, are some of the most powerful symbols of his regime.
In particular, the case of a 28-year-old Alexandria businessman allegedly beaten to death by two policemen in June set off months of small-scale protests and became a rallying point for a campaign against brutality by the police and security services.
A Facebook page started in memory of the man, Khaled Said, was used to send out the first call for large-scale anti-government protests on February 25. Since Mr Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt’s military rulers have been trying to meet quell the anger.
It announced on Friday that a referendum on constitutional changes to allow for competitive parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on March 19. A day earlier, the army picked Sharaf to become prime minister and form a new Cabinet. He replaces Ahmed Shafiq, the last premier to be named by Mubarak. Shafiq’s resignation was among the major opposition demands.
The constitutional changes to be voted on would open presidential elections to competition and impose a two-term limit on future presidents – a dramatic shift from a system that allowed Mr Mubarak to rule for three decades. The proposals address a number of the demands of the reform movement. But many say the changes don’t go far enough and debate is still under way over which election should come first.
Since it took charge of managing Egypt’s affairs, the military has promised to hand power to a new government and elected president within six months. It disbanded both houses of parliament and promised to repeal the emergency laws, though only when conditions permit.