Egyptian armed forces and protesters clashed Friday in Cairo, with troops firing water cannons and tear gas at demonstrators who threw stones as they tried to march on the Defense Ministry.
According to a report in The Associated Press, hardline Islamists were in the forefront of street fighting with the troops, a shift for groups that previously had largely stayed out of direct confrontation with the ruling military.
Hours after the street battles erupted, according to the report, Egypt's military council imposed a curfew on the areas where clashes erupted and vowed in a televised statement to take legal action against “those involved and instigators.”
The clashes centered around a sit-in that has been held for a week in a square several blocks away from the Defense Ministry, mainly by the ultraconservatives Salafis, who were protesting the disqualification of their favored candidate from the presidential election.
On Wednesday, unidentified assailants attacked the gathering, sparking clashes that killed nine. That fueled anger at the military and prompted more groups to take to the streets, AP reported.
Earlier on Friday, thousands of demonstrators massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square, dominated by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis and leftist movements. They demanded the country’s ruling generals hand over power to civilians and warned of possible vote-rigging in the balloting due to start May 23.
Some of the protesters later marched to the Defense Ministry, several miles away in the district of Abbasiyah.
The clashes began when protesters in Abbasiyah tried to cut through barbed wire separating them from the troops blocking access to the road leading to the ministry, AP reported. Live footage on state TV showed troops snatching one protester, beating him with metal sticks, tearing his clothes and leaving his back bloody. Soldiers with body shields and red helmets were seen carrying a soldier who collapsed with his nose bleeding.
The troops fired water cannons at protesters and hurled stones to keep them from advancing. The protesters took shelter behind metal sheets snatched from a nearby construction site and threw stones back.
After several hours, according to the report, troops swept through the protesters' camp, set tents on fire, chased protesters in side streets and drove them out of the area. Armored vehicles cordoned off several streets and occupied the main square and surrounding areas, including a big mosque.
The Health Ministry said at least 130 people were injured in the clashes. The military rulers said they would impose an eight hour curfew starting at 11 p.m. local time in Abbasiyah and surrounding areas and promised to prosecute those involved in the clashes.
The Salafist candidate who was disqualified is Hazem Abu Ismail, a lawyer-turned-preacher. Abu Ismail, who was disqualified in April along with nine other candidates, was barred from the race because his late mother allegedly held dual American-Egyptian citizenship, making him ineligible under election laws.
According to AP, Abu Ismail has encouraged his followers to take the streets. “We are in the face of a plot to abort the revolution,” his spokesman Gamal Saber was quoted as having told the Al-Jazeera network on Friday.
The remarks have raised accusations that Abu Ismail was dragging others into a confrontation with the military.
Also running is Ahmed Shafiq, who served as deposed leader Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)