Thursday, May 3, 2012

Egyptian protester killings disrupt presidential campaign

Men in civilian clothes attack mainly Islamist protest in Cairo, and several election candidates pause campaign activities

Peter Beaumont in Alexandria and Abdel-Rahman Hussein in Cairo, Wednesday 2 May 2012

"Egypt's fraught presidential election campaign has been thrown into crisis with the deaths of at least 11 protesters who were attacked by thugs armed with guns and knives outside the defence ministry in Cairo.

Men in civilian clothes attacked a largely Islamist group of protesters camped outside the ministry at dawn. The protest was started by Islamists several days ago over the disqualification from the presidential race of Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative, and had been joined by other groups in a broader demonstration against the ruling military.

Nine died from gunshot wounds, many to the head, and two others were reported to have been stabbed to death. A number of leading candidates for the presidency, including Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who split from the Muslim Brotherhood last year, and Mohammed Morsi, who is standing for the Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice party, announced they were suspending their campaign activities, three weeks before the first round of voting.

Clashes continued throughout Wednesday morning between protesters and the unidentified assailants, who threw petrol bombs and fired live ammunition, birdshot and teargas, according to witnesses.

"There is a deluge of blood on the street which extends for many metres. One injured man had his back sliced by the thugs," said Abdelrahman Hany, a rights advocate at the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, who was present when the attacks began.

Hany said he believed the attackers were linked to the state security apparatus. "How else would they possess teargas to fire at us?" he asked.

The deaths add to the already febrile air surrounding the elections, after veiled threats attributed to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to postpone the voting, and accusations from different sides of efforts to undermine the transfer to civilian rule......"

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