CAIRO - Military prosecutors ordered the detention of 300 protesters on accusations of attacking troops and disrupting public order during violent clashes outside Egypt's Defense Ministry, a prosecution official said yesterday.
The Friday clashes were some of the worst near the headquarters of the country's ruling generals, and come just three weeks before Egyptians are to head to the polls to vote in a landmark presidential election to see who will head Egypt after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year.
As the election approaches on May 23, many Egyptians are worried that the military council that assumed power following Mubarak will not hand over power to a civilian government. The protesters at the ministry were demanding the military council step down.
The Defense Ministry has become a flashpoint for protests in the last week mostly by supporters of a disqualified Islamist candidate.
After plans were announced for massive rallies Friday, the ruling generals warned demonstrators to stay away from the ministry building. They moved swiftly yesterday to prosecute protesters.
The hundreds of people detained Friday face charges of attacking military troops, being present in a restricted military area despite warnings and disrupting public order. The detainees are likely to face military trials.
At least 26 women are also being held, the official said speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Hours later, the military general prosecutor ordered the release of all female detainees.
The official said at least two of the detainees are also facing charges of killing one soldier during the clashes.
The military council had warned the demonstrators before the march that deadly force would be used against them if they approached the ministry. Over 300 people were injured by tear gas, rocks, and live fire. Security officials said 140 soldiers were injured. An overnight curfew was imposed following the clashes.
Lawyer Ragia Omran said the roundup is one of the largest mass arrests following protests during the country's troubled transition.
Political groups criticized the swift prosecution of protesters after Friday's demo, saying no such action was taken after nine civilians were killed in the earlier clashes. The powerful Muslim Brotherhood said it was "astonishing and surprising." Anger at the ruling military council has risen across the political spectrum. The generals are accused of using oppressive measures and maneuvering to maintain a degree of power even after the presidential election.
These recent protests have been spearheaded by Islamists after the disqualification of two heavyweight Islamists, Hazem Abu Ismail and Muslim Brotherhood chief strategist Khairat el-Shater, who were slated to run in the election.
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