Calm returns to Cairo after day of deadly clashes

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Calm returns to Cairo after day of deadly clashes

Calm returned to Cairo on Saturday after Egypt's military rulers imposed an overnight curfew around the defence ministry following fierce clashes between troops and protesters that killed two people.

2 Egyptian protesters set cardboard boxes on fire during an anti-military demonstration outside the defense ministry in Cairo on May 4. A Cairo district that witnessed deadly clashes between protesters and soldiers near the defence ministry was calm on Saturday after an overnight curfew Photo: AFP

Calm returned to Cairo on Saturday after Egypt's military rulers imposed an overnight curfew around the defence ministry following fierce clashes between troops and protesters that killed two people.

The clashes erupted just three weeks ahead of Egypt's first presidential election since a popular uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak last year.

On Saturday morning, after the curfew ended at 0500 GMT, the protests had subsided in the area surrounding the defence ministry, while soldiers and armoured personel carriers blocked off a road leading to the ministry.

Officials at Al-Zahra University hospital said on Friday they received two people who died in the skirmishes outside the ministry. A frontline medic group said they died of gunshot wounds.

The health ministry reported one death and said he was a conscript soldier.

At least 296 people were also hurt in the clashes, the health ministry said in a statement, including 131 treated in hospital.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had imposed the curfew starting from 2100 GMT, and pledged in a statement to "decisively confront" any attempts to break the curfew.

The army arrested 170 people outside the defence ministry, military prosecution sources said, adding that they would order the detention of people accused of inciting the violence, including some "big names."

Earlier on Friday, military police charged the protesters, chasing them down side streets near the ministry on foot and in military vehicles, firing birdshot and assault rifles into the air amid chaotic scenes.

A blanket of thick smoke engulfed Abbassiya square, where several thousand secular and Islamist protesters had gathered, some marching there from Cairo's Tahrir Square, to denounce the ruling military council.

The clashes began when some protesters threw rocks at the military police, prompting troops to respond with water cannon and later tear gas.

The police, their shields in one hand, hurled rocks back at the protesters, who used metal sheets from construction sites to protect themselves.

Bleeding protesters were ferried away by motorbike and ambulances rushed to the scene, an AFP reporter said. State television showed several soldiers wounded.

A Belgian photographer with the English-language Egypt Independent was briefly arrested, a colleague, Nevine El Shabrawi, told AFP.

The Al-Jazeera Misr satellite station said soldiers arrested a television crew from the January 25 channel, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The unrest comes ahead of the landmark presidential polls amid fears by many Egyptians that the military rulers will renege on a pledge to hand power to civilian rule after the election and that the vote will be rigged.

"We are here to end SCAF rule. We don't trust them. SCAF is following Mubarak's example, and we want to protect the revolution," said Mohammed Badawi from Ismailiya, a member of the Coalition of Revolution Youth.

The Abbassiya neighbourhood witnessed deadly clashes just two days earlier, which the health ministry said left at least nine people dead, though field medics say more died.

On Wednesday, unknown attackers stormed a sit-in near the defence ministry by supporters of Salafist politician Hazem Abu Ismail, after he was disqualified from the presidential race.

Other candidates include former Arab League chief Amr Mussa and Mubarak's last premier Ahmed Shafiq.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood has fielded the head of its political arm Mohammed Mursi whose main Islamist rival is Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member.

On Thursday, the SCAF vowed that the presidential election will be fair and moved to assure the public it will hand over power on schedule but warned against protests outside the defence ministry.

The presidential election is scheduled for May 23 and 24 with a run-off for June 16 and 17 if there is no outright winner.

The military vowed it would transfer power to civilian rule before the end of June, or by May if there is a clear winner in the first round.

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