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Egyptian Forces Roust Tahrir Square Sit-In

August 1, 2011

HEBA AFIFY and RICK GLADSTONE
August 1, 2011

CAIRO — Hundreds of Egyptian troops and security police officers forcibly cleared central Tahrir Square of the remnants of a three-week-old sit-in on Monday, tearing down tents and sending about 200 protesters running into nearby streets as the Ramadan holiday was about to begin.

The army deployed at least a dozen tanks in the square, apparently to prevent protesters from reassembling. Army officers said dozens had been arrested. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Squads of troops and police officers, including many in plain clothes, used sticks to whack down the tents in the square, and they shredded the cloth fabric so the tents could not be rebuilt.

The protesters, including women and children, had been camped out in the square since July 8 to demand a faster pace of political change from the interim military government that has ruled Egypt since the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s longtime autocratic president, on Feb. 11.

The sit-in had gradually dwindled with the approach of Ramadan, one of Islam’s most important holidays. Those protesters who remained were viewed by local merchants and others living and working near the square as an increasing annoyance, blocking the square and disrupting traffic. Many bystanders cheered when the army and security police moved in.

“I approve of dispersing the sit-in,” said one bystander, who identified himself as Mohamed Nazgy. With many of the protesters having left the square by Sunday, he said, “only thugs were remaining.”

Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency reported that the square had been reopened to traffic, without explaining the security operation that preceded it.

Protest leaders had sought to convince all the sit-in participants to leave before Ramadan, but a core group refused.

On Monday, the leaders condemned the eviction.

“This was expected but not acceptable,” said Ahmed Addraddo, a spokesman for the Democratic Front, one of the political parties formed during the anti-Mubarak revolution. “I was hoping we would disperse the sit-in willingly, but we failed.”

The eviction came less than two days before Mr. Mubarak, 83, is to go on trial on charges of corruption and ordering the killing of protesters before he was ousted. The judge who will oversee the trial said Sunday that the proceeding would be held in a large Cairo hall and broadcast on Egyptian television. However, it remained unclear whether Mr. Mubarak would be present.

The former president, a cancer survivor, has been held in custody in a hospital in Sharm el Sheik, the Sinai resort where he has a summer home. He has complained of numerous maladies, and doctors reported last week that he had refused to eat solid food.

Officials have said he his too weak to be jailed, but many Egyptians see his illnesses as ploys to avoid prosecution. On Sunday, state radio, quoting hospital officials, said Mr. Mubarak’s health was “satisfactory.”

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