Egyptian police clash with protesters in Tahrir Square

The New York Times reports: Thousands of protesters chanting for an end to military rule battled riot police officers firing tear gas, rubber bullets and bird shot in Tahrir Square on Saturday, as the military-led interim government appeared to soften its demands for special powers and protections in the future Egyptian constitution.

Coming just nine days before the scheduled beginning of parliamentary elections, the clashes were the biggest outbreak of violence here since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February, and the most violent manifestation yet of the growing anger at the ruling military council.

The clashes began midday Saturday after the police cleared out the last remnants of a large demonstration in Tahrir Square the day before. That demonstration, organized by Islamists but appearing to represent a far broader cross-section of Egyptians, drew tens of thousands of people calling for a swift end to military rule.

The fighting on Saturday began after news circulated that the security forces had moved into the square, the iconic heart of the Egyptian revolution, to force out a few hundred protesters who had spent the night. Hundreds and eventually thousands of other civilians stormed into the square to defend it, setting off battles that spread across downtown Cairo into the night.

Protesters threw rocks at police vehicles, capturing a police truck and passing out handcuffs, hats and other gear found inside. Others smashed the sidewalk into rocks to hurl at the police, and threw Molotov cocktails. Plumes of black smoke from a burning police truck wafted through the white clouds of tear gas.

Retreating riot police officers fired nonlethal weapons from their trucks to try to push back the crowd.

“Police and thugs and thieves,” the protesters chanted. Taking aim at Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who leads the ruling military council, they adapted the signature chant of the Arab Spring revolts sweeping the region: “The people want to bring down the field marshal.”

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