CAIRO — The Egyptian military on Monday defended its harsh crackdown on protesters, saying soldiers are trying to protect government buildings, and it accused private news organizations of colluding with those it says are attacking government property.
"There is systematic cooperation against the armed forces," Adel Emara, a member of the ruling military council, told a news conference. "Every protest starts peacefully and then turns into an attack on government facilities."
The council's comments further angered protesters on a fourth straight day of bloody clashes that Egyptian health officials said Monday had killed 12 people and injured hundreds. The violence is some of the worst to convulse Cairo since the January uprising that forced the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, installing the military as caretaker rulers, and it's raised fears that the first post-Mubarak elections last month won't calm protesters' anger.
Islamist parties were leading the second phase of parliamentary elections, Egyptian election officials reported as the counting of ballots from last week's vote continued. As in the first round, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party captured the most seats, followed by the more conservative Salafist Nour party.
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The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement condemning the attacks on government property, a sign that Islamist leaders were trying to cement their relationship with Egypt's powerful military. "Joining the protests will only worsen the situation," said a separate statement by an unnamed Muslim Brotherhood official. "There will be more bloodshed if we participate in such a violent situation."
The council's comments were the first since the clashes erupted Friday, and since images of a female protester being dragged, stripped and brutally beaten by soldiers have been broadcast around the world, a shocking episode of violence in socially conservative Egypt. However, Emara denied reports that soldiers were using live rounds against demonstrators, including some who reportedly had died of gunshot wounds.
Asked about the female protester, Emara appeared to acknowledge the use of excessive force in that case and said, "I feel sorry for this as an Egyptian and a father," but he sought to place the blame on protesters and their backers. He said the military council had received information of a plot to set fire to the Parliament building, and he accused some news organizations of withholding information about a fire at a science library.
Two dozen Egyptian human rights and civic groups issued a joint statement condemning the military's violence against protesters and accusing the military authorities of using the same suppressive tactics that the hated former Mubarak regime employed.
Hossam Bahgat, a well-known activist who directs the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the military council previously had refused to take responsibility for the deaths of 28 protesters at the hands of military personnel during a serious round of clashes in October.
Dozens of newly elected members of Parliament, joined by other political and community leaders, filed suit against Interior Minister Gen. Mohamed Ibrahim and the head of the Central Military Command, Gen. Hassan al Roweini, accusing both of killing protesters. A statement by the group demanded that the council immediately transfer power to Parliament after the last round of elections and start the process for a presidential vote.
Activists cited the case of Amr Hassan, a 23-year-old protester, as an example of military brutality. According to an autopsy report, Hassan was badly wounded in the clashes Sunday and authorities detained him for further investigation. He died while in military custody.
Forensic specialists told Egyptian media that the "deceased should have been transported to a medical facility; instead, he was locked up pending investigation."
Protesters and field hospital doctors reported that two more demonstrators were shot dead by military troops who raided Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday morning. Health Ministry officials said they'd received the reports but were unable to confirm the causes of death.
Photos of one protester who was killed by a gunshot to the back Monday morning circulated on social media websites. Protesters dragged the corpse to Omar Makram Mosque, the site of the main field hospital for demonstrators.
A day earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was "deeply concerned about the continuing reports of violence in Egypt."
"We call upon the Egyptian authorities to hold accountable those, including security forces, who violate these standards," Clinton said. "Those who are protesting should do so peacefully and refrain from acts of violence."
(Sabry is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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