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(New York) -- Amnesty International today demanded the Egyptian army protect protesters as deadly clashes broke out in Cairo ahead of presidential elections.
On Wednesday morning, groups of armed individuals clashed with protesters staging a sit-in since Friday evening near the Defense Ministry in Cairo. The Egyptian army and security forces initially did little to stop the clashes, which happened in the neighborhood of Abbaseya. The clashes continued until 1 p.m. after army troops, including armored vehicles, and heavily armed riot police, arrived at the scene.
“The army's intervention has come hours too late," said Amnesty International’s Philip Luther, director for the Middle East and North Africa. "There appears to be no will within Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to prevent these tragic events. After the weekend attack, the authorities should have been prepared for the violence."
The incident follows attacks on protesters near the Defense Ministry over the weekend, which left one dead and over a hundred people injured. The protesters had been demonstrating in support of a politician barred from the presidential elections and calling for an end to military rule.
One protester told Amnesty International he saw men shooting at protesters with pistols and shotguns, as well as throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks. Protesters were reported to have fought back, also throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Egyptian authorities say seven people were killed in the violence, with unofficial reports varying from 11 to 20. One doctor told Amnesty International he had seen six dead bodies Scores of people were injured.
Medical sources have told Amnesty International that some of those killed and injured had been shot with pistol ammunition and shotgun pellets. One person reportedly had his throat cut.
Further demonstrations are expected in Cairo this evening in support of the protesters and against military rule.
Amnesty International was told that during the clashes groups of armed men prevented protesters from seeking treatment at Ain Shams University Hospital (Demerdash Hospital).
One protester told the organization that it was only after the army moved in that ambulances were able to easily access the area.
It is still unclear who is responsible for attacking the protesters. Protesters have often been assaulted by unidentified groups of people under both former President Mubarak's regime and Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Often such groups have accompanied the army and security forces as they have dispersed demonstrations.
Presidential elections are due to be held on May 23 and 24.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.