Egyptian protesters set cars alight and threw stones at military police in Cairo early on Friday, witnesses and a security source said, after rumors spread that an activist had been detained at a sit-in and badly beaten.
Police fired in the air shortly after dawn to try to disperse around 300 demonstrators, who were angered by images posted online that appeared to show the activist badly beaten after his arrest, the witnesses said.
“The rumor is they beat him up badly and he is in hospital,” said a doctor at a field hospital set up to treat injured demonstrators. “This led people to go down to protest.”
There was no immediate reaction from security officials.
However, the security source said several people were injured in the clashes.
The activist, identified by others as Abboudi Ibrahim, was arrested as he left the sit-in outside the cabinet office in central Cairo.
A video circulating on Facebook showed a young man identified as Ibrahim being supported by a crowd, has face badly bruised and his eyes swollen and shut.
The troops responded by firing shots in the air and using water cannon, before throwing stones back at the protesters from the roof of the nearby parliament building, witness Mostafa Sheshtawa said.
Mona Seif, an activist against military trials of civilians, said soldiers also threw chairs at the protesters from parliament’s roof.
She said she accompanied injured demonstrators to a nearby hospital, where at least one received treatment for a birdshot wound.
Meanwhile, a government building near the cabinet office was on fire and the clashes continued through the morning, the state news agency MENA reported.
Protesters have occupied an area outside the cabinet office since late November, forcing the government to hold its meetings elsewhere.
“The military police are trying to break up the sit-in in front of the cabinet and unsurprisingly using force against peaceful protesters,” said 24-year-old activist Mohamed Aref.
MENA said activists were urging others to go to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to hold fresh protests.
The protesters have been camped outside the cabinet’s offices since November 25, when they branched off from larger demonstrations in nearby Tahrir Square.
They objected to the military’s appointment of a new prime minister, calling on the ruling generals to fully transfer power to a civilian government.
The military, in charge since president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in February, has said it will step down once a president is elected by the end of June next year.
Meanwhile, early indications of the second round of a phased election to choose the first post-revolution parliament in Egypt show that Islamists are ahead and have stronger results in comparison to the first round of the election.
The six-week election has been mostly peaceful since it began on Nov. 28.
Ten months after a popular uprising ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule, the country’s new political landscape looks set to be dominated by Islamist parties which clinched two thirds of the votes in the opening stage of the election.