Egypt's military sought to isolate pro-democracy activists protesting against their rule, depicting them as conspirators and vandals, as troops and protesters clashed for a third straight day, pelting each other with stones near parliament in the heart of the capital.
At least 10 protesters have been killed and 441 others wounded in the three days of violence, according to the Health Ministry. Activists say most of the 10 fatalities died of gunshot wounds.
The fighting, sparked when troops sought to break up a sit-in outside the Cabinet headquarters, has seen a particularly heavy hand by the military. Military police have been shown in video footage dragging women by the hair, even stripping the shirt off one veiled woman, and ferociously beating, kicking and stomping on protesters cowering on the ground.
Still, the protesters' numbers have remained smaller than earlier rallies - suggesting even anger over the disturbing images was not drawing the broader Egyptian public into a confrontation with the military, which activists behind the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak's autocratic regime 10 months ago accuse of mismanaging the transition period and committing human rights abuses.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the ruling military council on Sunday called the clashes part of a "conspiracy" against Egypt. It said its forces had the right to defend the "property of the great people of Egypt."
Seeking to depict the protesters as hooligans - and apparently to counter the widely published images of protesters being beaten - it also posted on the page footage of young men throwing rocks at a basement window of the parliament building and of at least one man trying to set the place ablaze.
The ruling generals have taken advantage of the growing frustration of many Egyptians over worsening economic hardships and tenuous security, blaming demonstrations, strikes and sit-ins for their predicament. The tactic, coupled with the military's efforts to stain the reputation of the youth groups behind Mubarak's ouster, appears to have worked.
The military has been using the state media and loyal private TV stations to project an image of itself as the protector of the nation and filling its public statements with patriotism and grave warnings of a dire future if political turmoil persisted.
Protest leaders increasingly complain that they feel isolated in a society that has grown more concerned with making ends meet than political rights. Many Egyptians see the ongoing, multistage parliamentary elections as a path to stability and an end to military rule.
"The military council uses every opportunity to show itself as the land's strongest institution," said Mohammed Abbas, an activist who defected from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and best organized political group, to side with youth groups more active in protests. "We are making it easier for the generals by our divisions and isolation."
In Sunday's clash, protesters and troops battled on two main streets off of central Tahrir Square, trading volleys of stones and firebombs around barriers that the military set up to block the avenues.
One of the streets is site of a research center set up during the three-year occupation of Egypt by France in the late 18th century. The building was almost completely gutted by a fire which broke out during the height of the clashes on Saturday, when troops on its roof and on other nearby rooftops hurled rocks down on protesters below.
Protesters, who blame the fire on the troops, have been trying to salvage valuable books and documents from the center, whose two-story building is now in danger of collapsing after its roof caved in.
The deepening hostility between the ruling military council and the protest leaders is in sharp contrast to the days of the popular uprising against Mubarak in January and February when army troops ordered out on the streets to take over from the hated police were given a warm welcome by hundreds of thousands of protesters in Cairo and elsewhere. The military at the time said it wouldn't fire on protesters.
When the military stepped into power after Mubarak's Feb. 11 resignation, it was largely embraced by the public.
Sunday's renewed violence was also taking place as unofficial results from a second round of voting in parliamentary elections showed Islamist parties, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, continuing their dominance at the polls. Liberal and left leaning parties, many of which sympathetic to the revolutionaries, have been trounced at the ballots.
The third and final round of voting is slated for next month in nine of Egypt's 27 provinces.
The Islamists have been staying clear of the recent violence, fearing that they could jeopardize their electoral gains by taking part in the protests. Their stance has prompted many activists to accuse them of political opportunism.
The clashes began early Friday when one of several hundred peaceful protesters staging a sit-in outside the Cabinet offices near parliament was detained and beaten by troops. The protesters began their sit-in three weeks ago to demand that the nation's ruling military immediately step down and hand over power to a civilian administration.
Activists have been trying to drum up public sympathy for their cause by flooding social network sites with photos and video from the troops' brutal assaults he past two days.
"Liars," proclaimed a red headline on the front page of the independent Al-Tahrir newspaper, referring to repeated denials by the military council and military-appointed Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri that no force or live ammunition were used against the protesters. With the headline, the paper ran a photo of the woman protester who was half-stripped by attacking soldiers. Other widely circulating footage shows an army officer running toward protesters while firing a pistol at them, though it is not clear from the footage whether he was using live ammunition.
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