Egypt: UN condemns security forces' crackdown in Tahrir Square


Egyptian protesters lob stones as they face off against riot police during clashes at Cairo's Tahrir Square on November 20, 2011.


Khaled Desouki

The United Nations condemns the "clearly excessive use of force" against protesters in Egypt, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said Wednesday.

She cited reports of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition being fired on demonstrators in Tahrir Square, as well as arbitrary detentions.

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Security forces' heavy-handed response will only serve to inflame the situation and make protesters more determined, Pillay said.

Her statement called for a full investigation into the violence:

"Some of the images coming out of Tahrir, including the brutal beating of already subdued protestors, are deeply shocking, as are the reports of unarmed protestors being shot in the head.

"There should be a prompt, impartial and independent investigation, and accountability for those found responsible for the abuses that have taken place should be ensured."

A total of 32 people have died since protests broke out on Saturday, according to Deputy Health Minister Adel el-Adawi, cited by the Egyptian Gazette. Another 871 have so far been injured, he said.

Egyptian rights group the Elnadeem Center puts the death toll at 38, with "at least" 2,000 wounded, the Associated Press reported.

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Clashes continued for a fifth day Wednesday as protesters surged down Mohamed Mahmoud Street towards the Interior Ministry, the Gazette said. It showed a photo of three armored tanks blocking the road.

The improvised field hospitals on the edges of Tahrir Square are treating scores of people injured by rubber pellets and teargas, said the Guardian's correspondent Martin Chulov.

There has been speculation that the gas used by security forces is a more toxic form than standard CS gas, according to Issandr El Amrani of the Arabist blog, with field doctors reporting more severe symptoms including involuntary spasms.

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The military denies firing live bullets on the crowd.

Five Egyptian human rights groups have announced they planed to seek the prosecution of senior military and police officials including the Interior Minister, the head of the military police and the commander of the central military district for their part in the deaths of protesters, in what El Amrani calls "a major taboo being broken."

Follow GlobalPost's correspondents on Twitter via @jonjensen and @erinmcunningham for live updates on the latest events in Cairo.