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Wednesday
Jun292011

Egypt, Syria (and Beyond) LiveBlog: A Return to Violence in Tahrir Square

A protester in Cairo's Tahrir Square last night

2055 GMT: Back to the lead story to wrap up today --- Ahram Online's video recording the clash in Cairo's Tahrir Square between security forces and protesters:

See also Egypt Feature: Clashes in Cairo

2100 GMT: Bahraini authorities have released 20 more medical staff who were detained in connection with the uprising against the regime, but they will still face military trial.

The 20 are among 48 doctors, nurses, and paramedics who were arrested. All by 14 have now been released, although the court proceedings, which have taken place over the last two weeks, will continues.

The release comes days before a "national dialogue" hailed by the regime as a chance for reconciliation.

2040 GMT: The Guardian of London, reporting that more than 1000 people were injured in the overnight clashes in Cairo, adds this incident:

The Guardian has spoken to residents in the downtown area who claim that central security forces (CSF) asked them to come and help defend the interior ministry from "criminal thugs" who were allegedly smashing up shops and cars in the area. "We stood with the police for some time and threw rocks at the civilians on the other side," said one man who preferred not to be named.

"We genuinely thought the CSF needed our help – they told us that if the thugs saw ordinary people standing side by side with the police, they would be scared off and calm would be restored. But the CSF then made the situation much worse by deliberately firing into the crowds, which brought lots of peaceful protesters on to the scene and it turned into a big battle. I don't know why the CSF did that but it felt like they wanted to make trouble."

2000 GMT: Latest claimed developments in Syria, via an activist....

Names of six of those killed in Jabal Al Zawiya in the northwest have been posted. Activists have claimed at least 11 people were slain as the Syrian military overran 41 villages in the area (see 1848 GMT).

There are claims of protests tonight in Homs, in the Damascus suburbs of Douma and Darraya, in Jassem near Daraa in the south, and in Al Bab near Aleppo in the north.

1955 GMT: Scott Lucas stepping in to note that a Yemeni air force jet has mistakenly bombed a bus in the south, as fighting continues between the regime and insurgents.

The airstrike killed four people and injured 12.

Later today insurgents overran a football stadium on the outskirts of the city of Zinjibar. The clashes killed 15 security troops, and regime warplanes bombed the stadium, leaving eight insurgents dead.

Officials said insurgents seized 50 residents in Zinjibar, accused them of passing information to the regime and locking them inside the governor's office. The officials also said regime jets bombed the nearby town of Jaar, captured by insurgents in early April.

1907 GMT: Multiple sources are reporting that there are major protests in Daraa, Syria, right now, and gunfire has broken out. This is the newest report:

Daraa: security forces dispersed a demonstration in Daraa AlBalad & AlSad road using live ammo,14 security buses heading 2 AlSad road

This video, posted within the last hour, reportedly shows Al Sad Road, in Daraa.

To provide some context, we have reports of large protests in both Aleppo and Damascus today. These cities have been resistant to large-scale protests, and are considered the key to Assad retaining control over Syria. Tonight, we have reports of new protests, but also a massive escalation of a military operation in the north. We also have similar reports from Daraa in the south.

These could be very important developments. We will keep you posted.

1855 GMT: Activists are claiming that this video is 1st Lieutenant Amjad Muhammad Al Hamid, who has defected to join the protesters in al Rastan, Syria:

1848 GMT: An source reports on the Syrian military offensive in the north. All of these updates are within the last hour:

More than 11 martyrs in the army's occupation of Jabal Al Zawiya Idlib today, at least 50 wounded, most from villages of Al Rami and Ibleen. The army stormed 41 villages of Jabal Al Zawiya with 70 tanks and destroyed the houses and buildings in the village of Al Rami.

They also carried out mass arrests in the tourist village of Darkoush.

Jabal Al Zawiya- 30 tanks in village of Ahsam alond, snipers on roofs-electricity is cut off & returns-army cuts off roads in village.

Defection of a General, a Colonel, and 3 Captains with 2 Officers in the village of Marayan. 13 Soldiers fled through the mountain, 30 others attempted to flee but failed & were caught by security forces.

1838 GMT: We're receiving some late reports that, despite our focus on Egypt this morning, it has been a very busy day in Syria as well.

Activists, and the BBC, are reporting that there was a sit-in in central Damascus to protest against the government and memorialize the martyrs.

This video reports to show large crowds protesting against the Assad regime in Hauran, in Al Jiza village, eastern Syria:

Women chant "we want freedom" today in Douma:

1820 GMT: This video, uploaded today, reportedly shows the Yemeni military shelling a residential neighborhood in Taiz. There is no way to authenticate the video visually.

1756 GMT: Elsewhere, 7 civilians have been killed in northwest Syria as the Assad military attacked the towns of Mar-Ayan and Ihsem, in Idlib province (updated from earlier). The military is conducting house-to-house searches in the region, and many have fled fearing the violence and potential arrests.

Meanwhile, lawyers have staged a sit-in protest in the courtroom in Aleppo, protesting against the Assad regime. This is significant for several reasons, as Aleppo is a key city where protests have yet to catch on, but it is also important that the middle-class and well educated lawyers have joined the protests.

This video claims to show the lawyers chanting "only God, Syria and freedom," and also that the army is forbidden (from getting involved in the political dispute):

1747 GMT: As Tahrir Square was once again filled with teargas, this piece of news takes us back to January 28th:

Samir Abdel Mageed, 38, lost his eye on January 28, the court said. He was awarded 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($8,389) in damages, against his claim of 5 million Egyptian pounds ($837,520).

Mageed had accrued 25,000 Egyptian pounds in medical expenses as a result of the injury.

1742 GMT: Egyptian police have detained 44 protesters who have been referred to military prosecutors for questioning after the protests and clashes of the last two days. A United States citizen and a British citizen are among those arrested.

1728 GMT: Back from a break to find many updates from Egypt...

As we noted earlier, US Deputy Secretary of State met with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). Burns called for an "open and inclusive" transition process, and he stressed the importance of building voter confidence in the process:

Burns said that during talks with officials, he emphasized, "American support for an open and inclusive political process in Egypt, the importance of following through on their commitment to lift the emergency law before the elections, the importance of protecting freedom of expression and freedom of assembly."

1530 GMT: Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has given a key-note speech this morning (full transcript). He defended Bahrain's human rights record, but he also called for the launching of an independent investigation into the violence in February and March:

"But let us make clear to anyone who holds any authority in the name of our government or on any other side, that we have not wavered in our commitment to the principles of human rights, and that the violation of those principles will not be tolerated. Such behavior does not help us, it hurts us all.

"We have therefore decided, after broad consultations with many parties including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to appoint an independent fact-finding Commission into the events of February and March. It will be comprised of eminent persons with extensive expertise in international human rights law, who have no role in our government, nor in our political sphere. They have been chosen because of their personal stature and international achievements.

"The mandate of this Commission has been established after consultation with its members, and will be fulfilled without any interference of any kind."

1515 GMT: The clashes are over, and the protests in Tahrir Square are winding down, so obviously it is time to fight over the different versions of the truth. The government is already trying to paint a picture of injured security forces that were attacked by thugs, malcontents, or even potential looters who should just go back home and wait for the elections. Amnesty International has a different assessment:

"Amnesty team did not see evidence of "thugs" clashing with security forces yesterday - saw families of #jan25 victims and activists #tahrir"

1459 GMT: According to Al Jazeera, the Egyptian Health Ministry is reporting that over 1000 people were injured in the last 24 hours during the clashes in Tahrir Square. Only 120 were actually admitted to the hospital, and only 16 remain hospitalized.

1446 GMT: In Yemen, the opposition is claiming that 300 soldiers have defected and joined the revolution:

"From the podium of the Square of Change in Sanaa, an announcement has been issued that 150 soldiers from the Republican Guards, 130 Central Security soldiers and 60 policemen have joined the rebellion."

This news comes as the Yemeni military is intensifying attacks against Islamic militants, but they are also attacking opposition tribes and claiming that they are also radical Muslim separatists.

1428 GMT: Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) met with the US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and the rest of the diplomatic delegation. We don't have details of what was discussed, beyond the plan to transition process and the Egyptian economy, but the timing of the meeting is intriguing.

1420 GMT: Al Jazeera is reporting that there are only a few hundred protesters in Tahrir Square, traffic has returned to normal there, and things are calming down.

What isn't calming down, however, is the panic in Egypt's stock market. The EGX-30 is down over 2 percent since clashes started, closing at 5,283 points.

1409 GMT: The view down Mohamed Mahmoud street, looking towards the route to the Ministry of Interior, Tahrir Square, Cairo.

1401 GMT: Where are the Libyan rebels getting their shiny new weapons? Today, Le Figaro is reporting that the French government has supplied "large quantities" of weapons to Berber tribes in Western Libya, an attempt to help the rebels capture Tripoli:

The newspaper said France in early May dropped 'large quantities' of rocket launchers, assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank missiles to Berber tribes in the Djebel Nefousa mountains that have joined in the campaign to oust Moamer Gaddafi.

1354 GMT: The British Ambassador to Egypt, Thom Reilly, has this report:

"#Tahrir full of confusion + anger. No sign of #police, but lorries of #Army in riot gear have just driven past."

"In #Tahrir. Groups talking animatedly. Tear gas hangs gently in the air. Streets covered in stones + broken glass."

1346 GMT: The Egyptian security aparatus is denying reports that the security forces targeted protesters, but rather they simply tried to protect the ministry buildings:

Gen. Mohsen Murad, the Cairo security director has told Egyptian state TV that "tear gas used in riots are used in a way not to endanger lives of individuals". He denied that security forces went to Tahrir last night, saying that they only dealt with protesters at the interior ministry, to stop them from breaking into it.

According to Gen Murad, 54 police conscripts were injured in the clashes, including four officers. One of the officers lost the use of an eye, he said.

1335 GMT: Two interesting pictures from Tahrir Square, in Cairo. The first shows the protesters setting up barracades to seal off the roads to the Ministry of Interior. The second shows the army blocking a different road leading to the Ministry of Interior.

This video was taken last night, before clashes broke out in Tahrir Square, Cairo. The people are chanting, "The people want to topple the field marshal (Tantawi, head of Supreme Council)."

James Miller takes over the liveblog from Scott Lucas.

1315 GMT: Troops, followed by an armoured personnel carrier on the street in Egyptian capital Cairo:

1310 GMT: A mass rally in Dhamar in Yemen demanding the departure of the Saleh regime:

1300 GMT: Security forces in Cairo block the street leading to the Egyptian Ministry of Interior:

1255 GMT: A march in Mansoura protesting overnight violence by security forces against demonstrators:

1250 GMT: Ammar Qarabi, president of the Syrian National Human Rights Organisation, has claimed that Syrian troops shot dead four civilians on Wednesday in the village of Rama in Idlib Province in the northwest, as troops and tanks continue to move through the area.

Qarabi said tank machine guns "started firing on surrounding woods then directed their fire on the village".

1245 GMT: Claimed footage of a candle-lit protest in Hama last night:

1135 GMT: In Bahrain, King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa has announced the formation of an independent commission to investigate the events of February and March during the uprising against the regime.

1130 GMT: A British journalist writes from central Cairo, "Youths hacking marble off buildings to throw at police who are letting off bangs, tear gas to scare them away."

The Egyptian Health Ministry is now saying that 595 people have been injured in Cairo's Tahrir Square since last night.

Thirty-three people are still in hospital.

 

The Ministry of Interior, reversing the decision of the Egyptian Football Association, has announced that Egypt's biggest football match, the Cairo derby between Zamalek and Ahly, will go ahead.

The EFA has postponed the match indefinitely because of security concerns.

1040 GMT: In a statement posted on its Facebook page, Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said overnight clashes occurred because demonstrators used the deaths of martyrs during the revolution to incite sedition against the security apparatus.

In separate statements, both Prime Minister Ezzam Sharaf and SCAF called on the people to resist such attempts and protect Egypt's security.

1030 GMT: Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf asked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to dismiss seven ministers from Cabinet, claiming that they are not carrying forward the aims of the revolution, but the military council has rejected the request.

Sharaf claimed that the ministers, most of whom served under the Mubarak regime, have disagreed with some of the Government's policies for social justice, and have failed in general to cooperate with the new Cabinet.

Sources said Sharaf might tender his resignation if the listed ministers remain at their posts.

1025 GMT: Claimed footage of a protest in the Syrian capital Damascus last night:

1020 GMT: In Yemen, Colonel Khaled al-Yafi'i was killed in Aden when a bomb exploded in his car.

The attack on al-Yafi'i, commander of a military outpost guarding the Aden Free Zone business park,was the second on a senior army officer in the city this month.

The outpost was targeted by a car bomb on Friday that killed four soldiers and a civilian and injured 16 other people.

1005 GMT: The Egyptian Football Association has postponed indefinitely the country's biggest football match, the Cairo derby between Zamalek and Ahly, after overnight clashes in the capital.

0955 GMT: Activist Eman al-Nafjan says at least five women have been detained for defying the men-only driving law in Saudi Arabia.

The detentions are the first major move by authorities since they arrested Manal al-Sharif for helping launch the Women2Drive campaign with a YouTube video.

0910 GMT: Kareem Fahim of The New York Times reports on the fall of a regime base to insurgents in Nafusa Mountains:

 

A group of the fighters spent the night at a safe house, and as the sun rose on Tuesday here in the mountains of western Libya, hundreds of other fighters joined them in positions around the base. By midday, the rebels had routed 100 or so of Colonel Qaddafi’s soldiers who had been guarding the base and had left their potatoes, trash and crumpled green uniforms behind.

 

0900 GMT: Britain's Deputy Ambassador to Egypt, Thom Reilly, visits Tahrir Square in Cairo this morning: "Tear gas fired. Motorbikes bringing gassed + injured out. Crowd angry. Square closed. Covered in broken glass + stones."

And then "Just left #Tahrir. Got accosted by 3 youth on motorbike. One had bandage on ear, one had blood-spattered shirt. Atmosphere v angry."

0820 GMT: Posted video shows continuing protest in Cairo, with demonstrators calling for the departure of Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

0735 GMT: An image from the Egyptian capital Cairo this morning:

0730 GMT: Residents and activists say Syrian tanks shelled Idlib Province in the northwest, around the villages of Rama and Orum al-Joz, overnight.

A resident said 30 tanks moved on Monday from the village of Bdama on the Turkish border, where troops allegedly broke into houses and burned crops, to Jabal al-Zawya.

0715 GMT: Libyan state media claims a NATO airstrike on Tuesday killed eight civilians and injured others, some critically, at a market in the town of Tawragha, 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of the capital Tripoli.

A reporter for the Chinese agency Xinhua saw NATO fighter jets hovering over Tajoura, 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Tripoli, and heard six huge explosions. There have been a series of raids on Tajoura, which NATO claims has a number of military targets, since Sunday.

Al Jazeera English reports on the opposition's attempt to form a united front to close on Tripoli:

0710 GMT: The overnight clashes in Cairo have overshadowed the political and legal news from Egypt, as an administrative court ordered the dissolution of local municipal councils that were elected under the Mubarak regime.

Dismantling the local councils was a prominent demand of the protesters against former President Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party.

Abdel Ghafar Shukr, an expert in local administration, explained the significance of the verdict:

 

There are 1,790 local councils and almost 52,000 thousand members. In 2008 municipal elections, National Democratic Party members won the majority of the seats through forgery. These were the people that received bribes from the executive body of the ruling party in order to make sure they are elected in their villages and cities. Dissolving the local councils is a victory to the revolution. It's like the mini-parliament and its suspended members should not continue in any political role for the years to come.

 

Ghafar Shukr added that elections will have to start at the level of the villages, cities, and directorates of Egypt. The ruling Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces has announced that national Parliamentary elections will take place in September.

0620 GMT: Street graffiti in Bahrain of activists Ibrahim Sharif and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja --- last week al-Khawaja was given a life sentence in prison and Sharif, a leader of the opposition Wa'ad Party, was sentenced to five years.

0615 GMT: Photos this morning from central Cairo, with security forces in the streets after overnight clashes:

0600 GMT: We begin this morning with a special feature on the overnight violence in central Cairo in Egypt, as security forces fought with thousands of protesters near and in Tahrir Square.

Meanwhile, Yemeni military forces commanded by Ahmed Ali Saleh, the son of the President, have reportedly bombed several villages of anti-regime tribes, killing at least three people.

Sheik Ali Youssef of the Naham tribe said Republic Guardian forces used warplanes and artillery to bombard villages in the Naham mountain area, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of the capital Sana'a. Youssef said up to 48 houses were destroyed, and hundreds of people had fled.

 

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