Egyptian riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets stormed into Cairo's Tahrir Square Saturday to clear a protest tent camp, setting off clashes with protesters who fought back with stones and set an armored police vehicle ablaze. At least 81 people were injured, state TV reported.
The scenes of protesters fighting with black-clad police forces numbering in the thousands were reminiscent of the 18-day uprising that forced out longtime President Hosni Mubarak in February. The violence took place just nine days before Egypt's first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections.
Witnesses said the violence began when riot police dismantled a small tent camp set up to commemorate protesters killed in the uprising and attacked around 200 peaceful demonstrators who had camped out in the square overnight in an attempt to restart a long-term sit-in there.
“Violence breeds violence,” said Sahar Abdel-Mohsen, an engineer who joined in the protest after a call went out on Twitter urging people to come to Tahrir to defend against the police attacks. “We are tired of this and we are not leaving the square.”
Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and beat protesters with batons, clearing the square and pushing the fighting into surrounding side streets of downtown Cairo.
Abdel-Mohsen said a friend was wounded by a rubber bullet that struck his head and that she saw another protester wounded by a pellet shot in his neck.
Crowds swarmed an armored police truck, rocking it back and forth and setting it ablaze. Black smoke rose over the crowd.
Saturday's confrontation was one of the few since the uprising to involve police forces, which have largely stayed in the background while the military takes charge of security. There was no military presence in and around the square on Saturday.
The black-clad police were a hated symbol of Mubarak's regime.
“The people want to topple the regime,” shouted enraged crowds, reviving the chant from the early days of the uprising.