CAIRO (Reuters) - Police in Cairo fired tear gas on Wednesday at hundreds of stone-throwing Egyptian youths after a night of clashes that left over 1,000 people injured.
The violence began after families of people killed in the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February held an event in a Cairo suburb late on Tuesday in their honour.
Other bereaved relatives arrived to complain that names of their own dead were not mentioned at the ceremony, sparking clashes that gravitated to the capital’s central Tahrir Square and the Interior Ministry, according to officials.
It was the first such violence in weeks in Tahrir, the epicentre of the revolt that toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11.
Some 1,036 people were injured, among them at least 40 policemen, according to the Health Ministry.
Early in the morning young men, many stripped to the waist, were still hurling stones at police near the ministry as commuters went to work.
Some ordinary Egyptians said those involved were bent on battling police rather than protesting. To others, the violence seemed motivated by politics.
“The people are angry that the court cases against top officials keep getting delayed,” said Ahmed Abdel Hamid, 26, a bakery employee who was at the scene overnight, referring to senior political figures from the discredited Mubarak era.
By early afternoon, eight ambulances were in Tahrir and the police had left the square. Dozens of adolescent boys, shirts tied around their heads, blocked traffic from entering Tahrir, using stones and scrap metal.
Some drove mopeds in circles around the square making skids and angering bystanders. “Thugs, thugs... The square is controlled by thugs,” an old man chanted in Tahrir.
The clashes unnerved Egypt’s financial market, with equity traders blaming the violence for a 2.3 percent fall in the benchmark EGX30 index, its biggest drop since June 2.
First aid workers treated people mostly for inhaling tear gas during the overnight violence. A Reuters correspondent saw several people with minor wounds, including some with cuts on their heads.
Some people still gathered in Tahrir on Wednesday said they were angered by the way the police handled the crowd overnight.
“I am here today because I heard about the violent treatment of the police to the protesters last night,” said Magdy Ibrahim, 28, an accountant at Egypt’s Banque du Caire.
Mohsen Mourad, the deputy interior minister for Cairo, said the security forces did not enter Tahrir overnight and dealt only with 150-200 people who tried to break into the Interior Ministry and threw stones, damaging cars and police vehicles.
Young men lit car tyres in the street near the ministry on Wednesday, sending black plumes of smoke into the air.
The state news agency MENA, citing a security official, said nine people were referred to the military prosecutor for investigation on suspicion of stirring up the violence.
The ruling military council said in a statement on its Facebook page that the events “had no justification other than to shake Egypt’s safety and security in an organised plan that exploits the blood of the revolution’s martyrs and to sow division between the people and the security apparatus.”
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf told state television he was monitoring developments and awaiting a full report on the clashes.
A hospital in central Cairo’s Munira neighbourhood received two civilians and 41 policemen with wounds, bruises and tear gas inhalation, MENA said. All were discharged except one civilian with a bullet wound and a policeman with concussion, it said.
Former interior minister Habib al-Adli has been sentenced to jail for corruption but he and other officials are still being tried on charges related to killing protesters. Police vehicles were stoned by protesters at Sunday’s hearing.
Police used batons, tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition against protesters in the first days of the 18-day uprising before they were ordered off the streets and the army moved in. Mubarak then handed power to an army council.
The former president, now hospitalised, has also been charged with killing protesters and could face the death penalty. Mubarak’s trial starts on Aug. 3.
“There is lack of information about what happened and the details are not clear. But the certain thing is that Egyptians are in a state of tension and the reason behind this is that officials are taking time to put Mubarak and officials on trial,” said political analyst Hassan Nafaa.
Additional reporting by Dina Zayed; Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer; editing by Mark Heinrich