CAIRO — Egypt’s ruling military council apologised on Saturday after military police beat protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, but activists called for fresh protests to denounce violence by the authorities.
A security official and witnesses said that military police surrounded protesters shortly after midnight, beating them with batons and using tasers to disperse a crowd of several hundred that had gathered to push for reforms.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said that “what happened late Friday was the result of unintentional confrontations between the military police and the youth of the revolution.”
It stressed that it “did not and will not issue orders to attack the youth, and all measures will be taken to ensure this will not happen again.”
In a second statement, the armed forces said they would “immediately release all the youth of the January 25 revolution that were detained in Tahrir Square (on Friday)”, but did not say how many there were.
A security official said around 20 people were detained.
Activists launched a Facebook call for fresh protests on Saturday to denounce the army’s use of force.
“Peaceful protesters in Tahrir are being chased away by the military police with tasers, sticks and whips. Masked men with machine guns trying to shut down the strike by force. Many beaten, assaulted and arrested,” the statement said.
“We cannot stand for this; we must stand strong against violence towards peaceful protesters.”
On Friday, thousands of Egyptians rallied in the square — the focal point of anti-government protests that toppled president Hosni Mubarak — to celebrate the success of their revolution and call for a new government purged of old guard remnants.
They demanded the replacement of the government of Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq. Even after a reshuffle on Wednesday, a number of key portfolios, including foreign affairs and defence, are still in the hands of Mubarak regime veterans.
“Shafiq’s government is subservient to the corrupt regime,” read one banner carried by demonstrators.
Protesters also called for the abolition of the much feared state security services.
Mubarak, who resigned on February 11, handed power to the army.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ordered Shafiq’s government to run the country’s affairs for six months “or until the end of parliamentary and presidential elections.”
It has vowed to uphold the principles of the uprising and fight the corruption that tainted Mubarak’s regime.
Nationwide protests erupted on January 25 demanding Mubarak’s immediate resignation and calling for political and economic reforms and an end to corruption.
At least 384 people were killed in 18 days of protests, over 6,000 wounded and scores detained.
On Thursday the public prosecutor orderd that former trade minister Rashid Mohamed Rashid and former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi to face criminal trial for corruption along with steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz — a member of the National Democratic Party.
Three other businessmen, including Lotfy Mansur — brother of a former minister — were also refered to the criminal court.
On Thursday, police detained former information minister Anas al-Fikki and former state broadcasting chief Osama al-Sheikh as part of a probe into alleged graft under Mubarak.
Fikki is the fourth member of Mubarak’s former government to be detained, after the former ministers of interior Habib al-Adly, tourism Zoheir Garranah and Maghrabi.