Hundreds arrested as violence spreads in Egypt

Egyptian anti-SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) protesters shouts slogans against the soldiers ahead of clashes with the Egyptian Army at the defence ministry on May 4, 2012 in Cairo's Abbassiya district. Egypt's ruling military announced an overnight curfew in the area surrounding the defence ministry in central Cairo, after fierce clashes between troops and anti-military protesters there  (AFP Photo / Gianluigi Guercia)
Egypt’s ruling military council has arrested 300 people and introduced an overnight curfew for the second night in a row following violent clashes in Cairo. Meanwhile, public anger has overflowed from Cairo into the city of Suez.

­Military prosecutors say 300 demonstrators, including nine journalists, will be held for 15 days pending investigation into the clashes in the Abbasiya district on Friday.

After hours of questioning, the arrested were charged with assaulting army officers, assembling in a military zone and preventing members of the security forces from carrying out their work. The accused denied all charges.

The clashes erupted on Friday during an anti-military demonstration in Cairo’s Abbasiya district and resulted in one death and almost 400 injured.

The military government has deployed extra troops in Cairo to try and curtail any spread in the violence that has gripped the city over the last week. An overnight curfew has also been introduced for a second consecutive night in the area surrounding the Defense Ministry.

Following the clashes in Cairo, a similar anti-military demonstration in Suez attempted to storm the governor’s office late on Friday.

Eyewitnesses say violence erupted in the center of the port city when anti-military protesters began to pelt the local governor’s building with stones. The subsequent skirmishes between police and activists led to the seven arrests.

Islamists join fray

­In an unprecedented escalation in tension, the supporters of two heavyweight Islamist candidates have joined the front lines of the protests. They have condemned the disqualification of hardline candidates Abu Ismail and Muslim Brotherhood chief strategist Khairat el-Shater.

Clashes with police in Cairo centered on a pro-Abu Ismail sit-in not far from the heavily-guarded Defense Ministry. Ismail appealed to his supporters on Friday to take to the streets in the face of what his followers have dubbed “a plot to abort the revolution.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, which enjoys a majority of seats in the Egyptian parliament, has accused the military government of employing oppressive measures in order to cling to power.

The ruling generals of the military government promised on Thursday that they would hand over full control to the outright winner – should there be one – of the elections on the 23-24 May.

However, the latest violence has left the presidential campaign in disarray. Two front-runners of the 13 remaining presidential candidates have temporarily suspended their campaigns in protest against the military rulers’ heavy-handed tactics with demonstrators.

Paula Slier, RT’s Middle East correspondent, said the participation of hardline Islamist groups in the latest protests is important because “we’re witnessing cracks in the opposition to the ruling military.”

The presence of hardline Islamists on the front lines of the anti-military protests has given rise to fears of the creation of “splinter groups,” potentially destabilizing an already delicate regime.

“What is particularly significant is that whereas once they seemed united, more and more we’re hearing of these splinter groups beginning to form,” said Slier.