Egyptian elections on track despite Tahrir protests

Egypt's rulers say they are committed to holding parliamentary elections as planned despite continuing protests in which hundreds of Egyptians flooded back into Tahrir Square — birthplace of the 18-day uprising that toppled leader Hosni Mubarak — after army troops and police launched an assault to evict protesters on Sunday.

After an emergency meeting on Sunday, the military council released a statement lauding police for refraining from using excessive force.

"The government is committed to holding elections on schedule, and that the current tension aims to postpone or cancel them to put a stop to the building of the state's institutions," said the statement released late Sunday. Parliamentary elections are slated for Nov. 28.

"The government fully supports the ministry of interior in election procedures and in facing off violence and thanks its forces for exercising the highest degrees of self-control during the events."

So far, three people were killed in the clashes, the Associated Press reported.

Freelance reporter Austin Mackell, on the scene in downtown Cairo, said there have been a number of small skirmishes around the square as well as clashes near the University of Cairo. He says he saw people who looked they were affected by tear gas or were injured streaming away from the university area.

"The situation is very tense," Mackell said on the phone to CBC News Network."It’s hard to know what happens next. The military is fairly opaque. You don’t know what’s happening in internal discussions."

Mackell says much may depend on how the U.S. administration reacts.

"These are U.S. tear gas canisters. America funds [the Egyptian military] to the tune of about $1.2 billion a year."

Doctors staffing two field hospitals in the square said they have treated around 700 protesters so far on Sunday.

Backed by armoured personnel carriers, security forces clad in riot gear moved into the square — where as many as 5,000 people had gathered — and fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

Demonstrators fled into surrounding streets as police and troops began dismantling tents and tearing banners.

However, many moved back a short time later.

Video from the scene showed some forming a cordon around Tahrir Square as demonstrators, some waving Egyptian flags, streamed into the area and began dousing fires.

Others could be seen dancing and celebrating as plumes of tear gas hung in the air. Many expect the crowds to keep growing.

The scenes were reminiscent of the very same protests that led to Mubarak's ouster in February.

The ruling military council held an emergency meeting Sunday in response to the violence, Reuters reported.

The protesters are demanding that the military, which took over from Mubarak, quickly announce a date for the handover of power to a civilian government.

On Saturday, two people were killed and hundreds wounded in similar violence in the capital and other cities, stoking tensions eight days before the start of the country's first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections.

An Interior Ministry official said 55 protesters have been arrested since the violence began on Saturday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Public anger has risen over the slow pace of reforms and apparent attempts by Egypt's ruling generals to retain power over a future civilian government.

"We have a single demand: The marshal must step down and be replaced by a civilian council," said protester Ahmed Hani, referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's military ruler and Mubarak's longtime defence minister.

"The violence yesterday showed us that Mubarak is still in power," said Hani.

The military has repeatedly pledged to hand over power to an elected government but it has yet to set a specific date. According to one timetable floated by the military, the handover will take place after presidential elections are held late next year or early in 2013.

Members of the Egyptian military have taken up positions around key government buildings and the Interior Ministry appealed for calm, Al-Jazeera reported.

Although the situation appeared to have calmed down, Egyptian-Canadian Ahmad Shokr told CBC News from Cairo that two people he knows received serious eye injuries.

"The violence can get pretty nasty but right now things appear to be fairly calm. In Tahrir the police have been forced to retreat out of the square," he said.

Shokr said many Egyptians are fed up and want a clear timeline for the transfer of power.

"This revolution was not carried out to replace Mubarak with another military ruler," he said. "This revolution is fundamentally about dignity, freedom and the first step towards that end will be the establishment of a truly civilian … democracy."