Dozens of arrests, injuries outside U.S. Embassy in Cairo
POSTED: Friday, September 14, 2012 - 4:00pm
UPDATED: Friday, September 14, 2012 - 4:04pm
CNN — A running battle between police and Egyptian protesters continued Friday into its fourth day.
A demonstration in Tahrir Square was peaceful, but unrest erupted outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, where riot police clashed sporadically with protesters.
The Interior Ministry reported dozens of arrests and injuries.
Mohamed Sultan, a Health Ministry spokesman, said 15 protesters were injured Friday from tear gas inhalation and eye irritation. Eleven protesters have been hospitalized in the past couple of days, he said.
The tensions in Cairo flared amid widespread rage over an anti-Islam film made in the United States and posted online.
Shortly after dawn, officers carrying shields and batons and backed by an armored personnel carrier rushed a group of several hundred protesters to quell a violent demonstration that had raged through the night.
After the rush, a smaller number of demonstrators regrouped near the U.S. Embassy across from police lines, and stones and tear-gas canisters once again crossed in the air.
Police fired rubber bullets at protesters. The army began constructing a wall of concrete blocks about 10 feet (3 meters) high across the road leading to the embassy.
In the afternoon, youths climbed the newly built wall and threw rocks at police, witnesses said. Security forces fired tear gas and used water cannon to hold off the rioters.
But 100 to 200 hundred meters away, in Tahrir Square, a few thousand protesters congregated peacefully.
More than 250 people have been injured and 40 arrested this week as riot police faced off against protesters, state media said.
Nearly three dozen of those hurt were members of the nation's security forces, state media said. Those arrested faced charges that included thuggery, assaulting police officers and vandalism near the embassy.
Both the police clampdown and the cancellation of the nationwide protests come during a delicate period across the restive Middle East.
In recent days, residents across the region and North Africa have taken to the streets to protest the film.
The region is on edge after the killings of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other American officials at the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
Ties between the United States and Egypt have cooled since the overthrow last year of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak and the election of Mohamed Morsy, the country's first democratically elected leader. Before he became president, he had been a leader in the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the popular Islamist movement.
U.S. President Barack Obama said that relations with Egypt will be shaped by how the country responds to the violence.
"I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy," Obama told Telemundo in an interview that aired Thursday.
If Egypt takes actions, Obama said, that "indicate they're not taking responsibilities, as all other countries do where we have embassies, I think that's going to be a real big problem."
Obama's comments were widely seen as a warning to Egypt, which was widely considered a staunch U.S. ally under Mubarak and remains a major recipient of American foreign aid. It is the most populous and one of the most influential nations in the Arab world.
When the protests began Tuesday, police and Egyptian troops formed defensive lines around the embassy to prevent demonstrators who had also gathered there from advancing, but not before the protesters had scaled the embassy fence and placed a black flag atop a ladder in the American compound.
Police arrested a handful of protesters at the time, but the failure of Egyptian authorities to take action sooner has been widely questioned, as has Morsy's delayed condemnation of the attacks on American diplomatic missions.
Morsy initially focused his criticism on the anti-Muslim film as an unacceptable slap at Islam.
But after speaking with Obama, Morsy on Thursday directly criticized the violence.
"Those who are attacking the embassies do not represent any of us," he said from Brussels, Belgium, where he was visiting the headquarters of the European Union.