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Protesters battle for control of Egypt's Tahrir Square

From Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, For CNN
December 19, 2011 -- Updated 2217 GMT (0617 HKT)
A protester holds up a bullet casing after deadly clashes with the military in Tahrir Sqaure
A protester holds up a bullet casing after deadly clashes with the military in Tahrir Sqaure
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: 14 people have died since Friday, a Health Ministry spokesman says
  • Hundreds on both sides are injured in clashes, officials say
  • At least 2 protesters are killed, a doctor on the scene says
  • Images of a partially stripped woman being beaten cause outrage

Cairo (CNN) -- Police and military troops clashed Monday with protesters in Egypt's Tahrir Square, the symbolic center of the uprising that brought down President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.

At least two protesters were killed, according to field doctor Ahmed Khalil. That brought the total number of dead in protests to 14 since Friday, according to Hisham Sheeha, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health.

Hundreds of people were injured on both sides in the clashes, officials from the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Health said. At least 200 protesters were injured, mostly by live ammunition, Sheeha said.

About 100 security officers were wounded, Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Marwan Mustapha said.

Monday was the fourth day that pro-democracy demonstrators battled Egyptian security, their anger stoked by images of a military police officer stomping on a woman's exposed stomach over the weekend.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement Monday condemning what she called "vicious" and "brutal" assaults filmed over the weekend.

Navi Pillay said she has strong concerns that women are being targeted in these attacks.

"The ruthless violence being used against unarmed women protesters in especially shocking and cannot be left unpunished," Pillay said.

A "Million-Woman" demonstration was planned for Tuesday afternoon in Tahrir Square to protest the military's treatment of female demonstrators.

Pillay said she believes the individuals involved in the assaults must be arrested and prosecuted.

"These are life-threatening and inhuman acts that cannot possibly be justified under the guise of restoration of security or crowd control," Pillay said. She called for an impartial and independent investigation into "all instances of abuse and violent repression against protesters."

A top general on the military council that runs Egypt blamed the violence on protesters, saying they had provoked the clashes.

Demonstrators have been using "very destructive methods," including Molotov cocktails, gas bombs and rocks, said Gen. Adel Amara of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on Monday.

"Protests start peacefully, then they turn into attacks on government buildings," Amara said, saying "events have proven there is a plan to destroy the country."

He said prosecutors had been assigned to look into the clashes.

He also accused protesters of obstructing firefighters trying to put out a blaze at a library in Cairo that houses ancient maps and artifacts.

Irreplaceable maps dating from Napoleon's conquest of Egypt in 1798 were among items destroyed in the fire, which began Saturday, caretaker Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri said.

Amara vowed that the generals honestly intend to hand power to a civilian government -- a key demand of the thousands who have been demonstrating.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said Monday that "urgent action" is required to stop the clashes.

In a statement posted on the party's English-language website, party members blamed the ongoing violence on some Interior Ministry chiefs, but also on "thugs" it said have infiltrated the ranks of the youth.

The group said Egypt's youths displayed true examples of patriotism and sacrifice during the January 25 revolution and called upon the same youths to stop those seeking to "derail the revolution."

Freedom and Justice Party members said all parties must "bear their national responsibility to stop the bloodshed and the chaos that tarnish the civilized image of the Egyptian revolution."

Gigi Ibrahim, a prominent activist who was present at the clashes early Monday, accused the army and police of firing "indiscriminately."

"They stormed into the square destroying cars, shops, and even the field clinic, and they will blame it on protesters," she said.

Control of the square has gone back and forth between the protesters and security forces, who have fired live ammunition, bird shot and tear gas.

"Dozens of detainees arrested during the clashes have suffered serious injuries that need medical attention," said Ragia Omran, a lawyer who volunteers to assist detained protesters. She said some prosecutors were allowing wounded to be transferred to hospitals and some were not.

But Maj. Mohamed Askar of SCAF said protesters were capturing and wounding soldiers.

"The army soldiers they kidnapped and returned are now in the hospitals. The rebels also captured three officers, tortured them and released them. They were even talking about a prisoner swap," he said.

CNN could not independently confirm the details of either side's account.

Newly elected lawmakers, intellectuals, and prominent clerics have been at the scene to seek a truce but their efforts have not succeeded.

Cairo's stock exchange plunged Sunday amid the new turmoil, while Saturday's images of the woman's beating appeared to draw more people to the streets.

More than 20 police officers attacked the woman, whose traditional robe and headscarf were pulled away as the officers dragged her down the street, exposing her stomach and blue bra.

One of the police officers aimed a foot at her upper abdomen and stamped squarely on it, while another officer jumped on a male protester as he lay on the pavement nearby.

"The army were like vultures who found a prey," said Mohamed Zeidan, who filmed the beating from a balcony overlooking Tahrir Square. He said after he stopped filming the beating out of fear of being discovered, "the soldiers even beat an older couple who tried to help her up."

Images of the woman's treatment were splashed across the front pages of Sunday newspapers in Egypt and zipped around the world on social media networks. But a spokesman for the military, which has ruled Egypt since February's ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, had no apologies.

"What was woman like her doing in a conflict zone?" asked Askar. "She must have participated in the attacks on the military and the Cabinet."

Askar questioned why the woman has not come forward to identify herself.

"Our troops do not just attack people for no reason," he said. "If she had nothing to hide then she would have presented herself. Where is she?"

Two people who know the woman, including the man seen being beaten alongside her in the video, said she is a political activist and student. She does not want to speak to reporters now, but a journalist who saw the incident and was beaten as well said the woman suffered "serious bruises and cuts" as a result.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the reports of violence on Sunday and said her thoughts are with the families of those killed or injured.

Tahrir Square has been the epicenter of anti-government demonstrations since last January, when the revolt against Mubarak began. Fresh protests sprouted in November, when the generals named Mubarak-era premier Kamal Ganzouri as a caretaker prime minister until parliamentary elections are complete.

CNN's Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

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