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Egyptian troops clash with protesters camping out in Cairo's Tahrir Square
CAIRO (AP) ' Troops backed by armored vehicles and hundreds of riot police fired shots in the air and used clubs Monday to clear activists who had been camped in Cairo's Tahrir Square for weeks to demand justice for those behind the killing of protesters during Egypt's uprising.
The protesters hurled rocks at the security forces and ignored the army's orders over loudspeakers to clear the huge traffic circle in central Cairo that was the epicenter of the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February. Hundreds of onlookers, frustrated over the disruptions to life and commerce around Tahrir, cheered the army for clearing the square, witnesses said.
The clashes began as the forces arrived in the square to dismantle the tents, witnesses said. They were sparked after a small group of protesters decided to continue the sit-in at Tahrir, even though most decided to end it to mark the start Monday of the holy month of Ramadan, when devout Muslims refrain from food, drink, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Activist Lilian Wagdy, who was in Tahrir when the army charged in, said the clashes began when some protesters tried to stop the troops from reaching the square through makeshift checkpoints they had erected to check IDs of anyone coming in.
"The soldiers rushed in, charged toward the tents and brought them down," she said. "The civilians who rushed in behind the army were cheering (the troops) and shouting: 'The army and people are one hand.'"
Wagdy said she was beaten by one of the civilians and one of the soldiers tried to grab her mobile phone.
"They beat people with sticks and electrified batons. I don't see why they had to use excessive force like this."
Nora Shalaby, an activist who arrived at the square shortly after the army moved in, said she saw soldiers detaining at least one person and dragging him away. The checked IDs and asked hundreds of onlookers to leave.
"The army is everywhere now," she said.
Monday's army operation brought an end to nearly a month of renewed daily protests in the central square. The sit-in has angered shopkeepers in the area because the protesters block all traffic to the square.
On July 8, several hundred demonstrators had rebuilt the round-the-clock protest camp that had been up throughout most of the uprising. Demonstrators have been frustrated at the slow pace of the transition to democracy since the uprising and also over what they see as the military rulers dragging their feet on prosecutions of former regime stalwarts.
After the army's clearing operation, traffic immediately returned to the busy interchange in the heart of downtown for the first time in weeks.
Egypt's activists, many of whom are suspicious of the ruling military council's pledges to bring genuine reforms, are demanding Mubarak loyalists be weeded out from key state institutions like the judiciary, police and civil service.
Mubarak's trial on charges he ordered the killing of protesters in the crackdown earlier this year is scheduled to start in Cairo on Wednesday. Seeing him and other members of his regime brought to public trial is a key demand of the protesters.
After the confrontations, the square was strewn with personal belongings of the protesters ' books, blankets, mattresses and clothes ' and the torn canvasses of tents.
Many of those who had remained at the square were relatives of some of the 850 protesters killed during the uprising.
The relatives and other protesters wanted to continue with the sit-in until Mubarak appears in the first hearing of his trial on Wednesday. Others wanted to stay at the square until all other demands are met.
Mubarak, his security chief and six top police officers could face the death sentence if convicted of ordering the use of lethal force against the protesters.
Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy contributed to this report.