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Fresh violence erupts in Cairo, hours after Cabinet submits resignation

From Ben Wedeman and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, CNN
updated 6:45 PM EST, Mon November 21, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Clashes erupt anew around Tahrir Square, contributing to multiple injuries
  • NEW: 127 protesters have been released from jail, a prosecutor's spokesman says
  • The death toll from clashes is 24, with 207 hurt Monday alone, a spokesman says
  • There are conflicting reports as to whether the Cabinet's resignation was accepted

Cairo (CNN) -- Fresh violence broke out in and around Cairo's Tahrir Square early Tuesday, hours after Egypt's Cabinet submitted its resignation to the nation's military-led government.

Multiple people suffered injuries in intense early morning clashes, according to CNN staff on site. Ambulances could be seen on video rushing in and out of the square, which served as the hub for the movement that led to the ouster nine months ago of long-time President Hosni Mubarak and is now a center for protests against Egypt's military rulers.

Tuesday's violence marks the fourth straight day of clashes between security forces and protesters, days ahead of a November 28 parliamentary election.

Amid the unrest, Egypt's Cabinet offered to resign Monday night. Justice Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz al-Juindy explained that this move to quit the government was driven by opposition to security forces' crackdown on demonstrators.

"I resigned because of the events in Tahrir (Square), because of the political responsibility," explained al-Juindy.

The military leadership accepted the mass resignation soon after the prime minister's office said it was offered, said Lt. Col. Amr Imam, a spokesman for the ruling Supreme Council for the Armed Forces.

But a short time later, a spokesman for Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said the resignation was not complete. Mohammed Hegazy said around 11 p.m. Monday (4 p.m. ET) that Egypt's military council "is currently in another session with the Cabinet and has not accepted" the Cabinet members' proposed mass resignation "yet."

As this potential political shuffling played out, animosity and violence continued to simmer in the streets of Cairo.

Twenty-four protesters have died in these recent clashes, Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Adil al-Dawi said shortly before midnight Monday.

Among police, 102 officers and conscripts have been injured, with wounds ranging from gunshots to burns from Molotov cocktails, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. One officer has a critical bullet wound to his head.

Roughly 1,700 citizens have been wounded, according to the same Health Ministry spokesman. That includes at least 207 on Monday.

Adel Saeed, a spokesman for Egypt's general prosecutor's office, said 127 demonstrators who had been arrested since Saturday have been released. Another five have been "detained temporarily for further investigation."

The military council has said on its Facebook page it is "extremely sorry for what the events have led to." And spokesman Maj. Mohamed Askar noted late Monday that the Supreme Council has ordered a fact-finding mission to assess what has happened.

Moreover, the Supreme Council also is calling upon "all political forces to hold dialogue as soon as possible in order to address the escalation" of unrest, Askar said.

Yet such pledges didn't appear to resonate much with those around Tahrir Square.

"People here feel that they have been cheated and that they have moved from an autocracy to a military dictatorship," protester Mosa'ab Elshamy said. "So they are back to the square -- back to square one -- to ask for their rights once again."

Another man said the Supreme Council itself must relinquish authority.

"We want the military council to hand over power to civilians," he said. "It's over! It's enough of them. ... Stop beating the people!"

With citizen activists again at odds with security forces in Tahrir Square, the scene this week in many ways resembles what happened in February.

After Mubarak was ousted, military leaders took control with the promise that eventually a civilian government would be elected and take over.

Military leaders still say they will hand over power to a new government when one is elected. Parliamentary elections are set to take place November 28. But a complex electoral process follows, and presidential elections could be a year away.

Demonstrators say they are concerned the military, which would continue to be Egypt's top authority until a president is in place, wants to keep a grip on the country. Many also have voiced anger about a proposed constitutional principle that would shield the military's budget from scrutiny by civilian powers. They say they worry the military would be shaped as a state within a state.

These sentiments are reflected in the 2011 Arab Public Opinion Poll, conducted by University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami and released Monday. Some 21% of respondents said they believe Egypt's military rulers are working to advance the gains of the revolution, while double that figure, 43%, say they are trying to slow or reverse the gains. The survey of 750 Egyptians, conducted between October 22 and 30, has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

On the streets of Cairo, some protesters have gone further, shouting that they believe Mubarak is running the military council and, in fact, the entire country from prison. He and his sons Gamal and Alaa face charges of corruption and of killing protesters.

Violence on the streets has intensified the sentiments among demonstrators.

On Monday, CNN saw police use tear gas and rubber bullets in attempts to disperse the protesters, who responded with Molotov cocktails. Both sides threw rocks as well.

CNN saw captured protesters beaten and shocked with Taser-like devices. CNN also saw bullet holes and a pool of blood. Witnesses said one young man was shot from a nearby building. Witnesses showed CNN mobile phone footage of the wounded young man before an ambulance picked him up.

Doctors at Tahrir Square said injuries in the latest fighting include gunshot wounds, excessive tear gas inhalations and beatings to the head.

"I have received many people suffering of convulsions," said Tarek Salama, a medic in a makeshift hospital in Tahrir Square. "Lots of gunshot wounds from rubber and bird shots. And I have seen two cases who have been hit with actual live bullets."

Still, security forces' efforts to control the demonstrators have not succeeded in stopping the people -- many of them shouting "freedom" -- from gathering day after day, night after night.

In fact, more and more people appeared to be joining the protests.

Some political factions have vowed to hold a sit-in Tuesday at Tahrir Square, demanding the immediate resignation of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. They also demand the immediate punishment of those who have killed protesters in the past few days.

The Alliance of the Revolutionaries of Egypt are calling the event a "million man sit-in."

The Muslim Brotherhood, one of the largest organizations in the nation, has said that it is not having its members join the event.

Besides Cairo, clashes between protesters and police have also reportedly broken out in the cities of Suez and Alexandria.

Military officials have said generally that they will allow protests, so long as they are peaceful.

The Supreme Council, moreover, has stressed its commitment to "handing over power to an elected, civil administration" and said they do not "seek to prolong the transitional period in any way."

Hisham Qasim, a publisher and human rights activist, said Egypt can't afford anything -- including another revolt -- that could further hamper its already struggling economy. The nation's once-thriving tourism industry continues to struggle, while unemployment remains high.

"The poverty belt is now the ticking time bomb in Egypt," Qasim said. "It threatens that what we went through (earlier this year) could be repeated. ... I don't think we'll survive a second uprising in the span of 10 years."

CNN's Saad Abedine and Josh Levs and journalist Ian Lee contributed to this report.

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