Egyptian police beat protesters calling for constitutional reforms, confiscate media cameras

By Paul Schemm, AP
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Egypt police violently disperse pro-reform protest

CAIRO — Egyptian police on Tuesday beat and dragged off protesters to disperse a gathering of a few dozen in downtown Cairo calling for constitutional reforms and fairer presidential elections.

Several dozen protesters managed to briefly assemble in front of the upper house of parliament chanting “freedom” and calling for changes in the constitution before plainclothes police and anti-riot squads attacked them.

Plainclothes officers dragged demonstrators out of the crowd and threw them into waiting trucks. Young women among the protesters collapsed on the ground, weeping after they were attacked and their friends were taken away.

Police later pursued smaller groups of protesters through Cairo streets, knocking them down and arresting them if they attempted to chant. A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media, said around 60 people were detained.

Demonstrations are illegal under Egypt’s three-decade old emergency law. Media crews were also attacked and photographers’ cameras were confiscated.

“It is an insulting image for Egypt,” opposition politician Ayman Nour said about the heavy security presence ahead of the rally. “Hundreds of soldiers are denying the right of a few dozen citizens trying to express their desire to amend the constitution.”

When Nour tried to leave his downtown office to join the demonstration, riot police stopped him and arrested several of his supporters. Nour, who came a distant second in 2005 elections to President Hosni Mubarak, recently announced his campaign program for the 2011 presidential race.

Nour is not actually eligible to run this time around, because he was convicted of forging party documents after the last election — charges he says were trumped up.

Tuesday” he protest was organized by the April 6 youth movement that calls for political reforms and backs the unofficial candidacy of former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohammed ElBaradei. He did not attend Tuesday’s protest.

ElBaradei has made constitutional changes to allow fairer elections the centerpiece of his recently announced reform movement. His return to Egypt and his call for an open political process has galvanized the country’s scattered and divided opposition. ElBaradei is also not eligible to run for president under the current constitution.

Mubarak has ruled Egypt since 1981 and only introduced multi-candidate presidential elections in 2005. His ruling party has kept a stranglehold on the country’s politics.

The government had banned the Tuesday protest, warning in a written notice against disturbing traffic and peace.

Security forces were especially sensitive to members of the media attempting to record the demonstration and went after them. Several heavyset plainclothes policemen tackled and beat an American freelance photographer when he tried to take pictures of the rally, taking his camera and briefly detaining him when he asked for it back.

Plainclothes officers also converged on a man filming the events and when he wouldn’t surrender his video camera, hauled him over an iron traffic barrier and slammed him to the ground.

The April 6 youth movement was formed through online social networking sites such as Facebook, taking its name from a general strike it organized in 2008. It periodically organizes pro-reform protests.

Egypt is to hold parliamentary elections this year and presidential elections in 2011. Amendments to the constitution passed in 2007 restrict candidates to the presidential election to only a few members of approved political parties.

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