CAIRO - Egyptian armed forces and protesters clashed in Cairo on Friday, May 4, as troops fired water cannons and tear gas at demonstrators who threw stones as they tried to march on the Defense Ministry, sparking a new cycle of violence only weeks ahead of presidential elections.
"The march to Abbasiya is beginning now. Join it, a speaker on one of several podiums set up in Tahrir square cried urging protesters to march to the defense ministry, Reuters reported.
Your duties at Tahrir are over."
Video from the scene showed some protesters throwing rocks at security forces and the security forces spraying water cannons at the demonstrators as news agencies said eight protesters were injured.
A few hours before clashes, thousands of protesters marched in Cairo's district of Abbasiya, including April 6 movement, against the ruling military council.
Thousands of protesters also flocked to Tahrir square, the epicenter of protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last year, answering a call from the Muslim Brotherhood for a major protest demanding free presidential vote.
Tahrir protest was joined by Islamists, liberals and left-wing revolutionaries who gathered to protest the killing of peaceful protesters last Wednesday at the defense ministry.
"Down, down with military rule," protesters shouted in Tahrir and Abbasiya.
The sour relations between Egyptians and the ruling military council has further deteriorated when unidentified "thugs" armed with guns or batons attacked demonstrators, who camped out near Egypt's defense ministry in Abbassiyya square in downtown Cairo last Wednesday.
At least nine people were killed in Wednesday's clashes, according to health ministry.
The number jumps to 20 according to field hospital medics.
Friday's protest comes just three weeks before the country's first post-revolt presidential election, after which the ruling military is to hand power to civilian rule, which begins on May 23 and 24 with a run-off in June.
The vote offers Egyptians their first chance to freely choose their leader and would mark the last step in a messy transition to democracy since the overthrow of autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.
However, recent disqualification of presidential candidates, including Salafi Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail and the Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat El-Shater has questioned the impartiality of the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission.
Banners hanging from the stages in Tahrir demanded an end to a constitutional amendment that forbid appeals against the disqualification of election candidates.
It also asked for the dissolution of the state election committee overseeing the vote and the enacting of a law barring Mubarak regime figures from politics.
Friday's clashes were preceded by a stern warning from the ruling generals against gathering outside the defense ministry.
"The responsibility, the duty, the law and the right to self-defense, as well as the honor of the military obligates members of the armed forces to defend the defense ministry and its military installations because they are a symbol of military honor and the prestige of the nation," General Mokhtar al-Mulla, a member of the ruling military council, said on Thursday, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
"If anyone approaches its (installations), they should hold themselves responsible," he told reporters.
Members of the ruling military council also renewed a pledge to exit politics after handing power to the new president by mid-year.
They said the handover could come earlier in the unlikely event that no one wins outright in the first round.
But tension between the interim government and parliament has left Egypt in a state of policy paralysis that has deepened an economic crisis caused by more than a year of political turmoil.