CAIRO - At least 20 people were killed and scores wounded Wednesday, May 2, when armed attackers assaulted an anti-army protest in Egypt, casting a deep shadow over this month's vote to elect a successor to ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
"Where is the army? Why are they not stopping these people?" a bystander told Reuters as the violence persisted.
Unidentified "thugs" armed with guns or batons attacked demonstrators, who camped out near Egypt's defense ministry in Abbassiyya square in downtown Cairo.
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Security and medical sources said 11 people were killed and over 160 wounded in the clashes.
But a doctor at a field hospital in the area told AFP that 20 people were killed and dozens injured.
Shots rang out as young men dashed back and forth across debris-scattered streets, hurling rocks, glass and petrol bombs.
"Down, down with military rule," yelled protesters.
The fighting raged on unabated through the morning, but subsided in the afternoon.
Wounded men were hauled away as others filled bottles with petrol while shots rang out.
A Reuters witness saw some combatants carrying guns and one with a sword.
The army sent in extra vehicles and troops, but pledged in a statement not to disperse peaceful demonstrators.
Protestors, who are supporters of disqualified Salafi candidate Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, have been camped out since Saturday to protest his disqualification.
"We are here to demand that the army council hand over power," 19-year-old Tarek Samir, one of the protesters, told Reuters.
On Sunday, one person was killed and 119 injured in clashes between Abu-Ismail's supporters and residents of the Abbassiya neighborhood in Cairo, where the defense ministry is located.
Protests since Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising last month have often turned violent, with thugs associated to the previous regime frequently blamed.
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The killings of protestors have sparked a storm of condemnations across the country.
"SCAF & Government unable to protect civilians or in cahoots with thugs, former UN nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei posted on Twitter, referring to the ruling military council.
Egypt going down the drain.
Two presidential candidates have suspended their electoral campaigns over the killings.
"Anything related to campaigning today including voluntary activities on the ground is being suspended," Ali al-Bahnasawy, media adviser of candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh, told Reuters.
Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi told reporters he decided to suspend his campaign for 48 hours "in solidarity with the protesters."
He blamed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces because it is the ruling authority.
SCAF "is the first to be responsible," he said.
The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said the violence signaled an attempt to "obstruct the handover of power".
The Brotherhood also said it would boycott a meeting on Wednesday between the military council and party leaders to defuse a crisis between the Islamist-dominated parliament and the army-backed interim government.
The April 6 Youth Movement decried the "massacres" and demanded the army be held to account for its "crimes committed against the revolution and revolutionaries".
Protesters often accuse the army and state security of paying or encouraging thugs to quash peaceful demonstrations.
The violence casts a deep shadow over presidential election, set for May 23, amid speculations about postponing the vote.
But analysts believe that the violence would not disrupt plans to hold the ballot.
The unrest, limited to Cairo, is on too small a scale so far to influence the election, said Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, a political science professor at Cairo University.
"These are small groups," he told Reuters, adding that if anything, the trouble would intensify popular demands for an end to military rule.
The army, which has pledged to hand over to civilian rule after the presidential election, has faced mounting criticism of its handling of the turbulent political transition since Mubarak's fall.Many Egyptians suspect the generals will seek a strong influence even after the new president assumes power.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net