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Library fire in Egypt clashes destroys 'irreplaceable' 200-year-old documents

From Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, for CNN
updated 11:59 PM EST, Sat December 17, 2011
An Egyptian protester against continuing military rule throws stones at riot policemen during clashes in central Cairo Saturday.
An Egyptian protester against continuing military rule throws stones at riot policemen during clashes in central Cairo Saturday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A widely distributed video shows security forces beating, undressing a female protester
  • At least 10 people have been killed and 432 injured in violence since Friday
  • The new prime minister calls library fire an "arson committed by the protesters"
  • He also denies use of live fire, though six are dead from such ammunition

Cairo (CNN) -- The new wave of bloody clashes between pro-democracy protesters and Egypt's security forces has left at least 10 people dead, including six by live ammunition -- even though the new prime minister denied that live fire was being used by his forces.

Meanwhile, 213-year-old Egyptian maps and historical manuscripts -- described as "irreplaceable" -- were destroyed after a library in Cairo was set ablaze during the clashes, officials said.

Among those killed in the escalating violence in central Cairo were two children, ages 12 and 14, and two others died from skull fractures caused by cement blocks, officials said. Also, 432 people have been injured since the latest unrest broke out Friday, said a spokesman for the Health Ministry, Dr. Hisham Sheeha.

Sheeha said six of the deaths were by live fire.

Also Saturday, disturbing video showing what looked to be security forces dragging, beating and partially undressing a female protester went viral on the Internet. In it, a woman's abaya and hijab are pulled away, exposing her bra, as a man stomps on her stomach.

CNN could not verify the authenticity of the video, which was distributed by the Reuters news agency.

Egypt's Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, appointed by the military earlier this month, condemned the library attack, which he called an "arson committed by the protesters who portrayed no patriotism in protecting the symbols of the historical civilization of this nation." The 200,000-book library is called the Scientific Center.

Destroyed in the fire were the original manuscript of the "description of Egypt" and "irreplaceable maps and historical manuscripts preserved by many generations since the building of the Scientific Center in August 1798 during the French Campaign," Ganzouri said in a statement.

Egypt lost a piece of "its national treasure" and "its rare history," the prime minister said.

The library was a scene of intense confrontation Saturday.

A dozen men dressed in military uniform were positioned on the library roof and threw cement blocks and rocks on the protesters and sprayed them with water hoses to push them away from the building.

But protesters hurled back rocks as well as Molotov cocktails. Then a massive explosion erupted, apparently originating from inside the building, and black smoke billowed.

Firefighters were busy putting out another fire in a nearby building.

Protesters were bleeding from rocks thrown at them.

At least one demonstrator was unaware that the structure was a library containing historical documents.

"We had no idea it was a library. We love our country. Why were the military thugs on the rooftop of the building in the first place, throwing debris and rocks at us? They destroyed it, not us, and now they will use it to turn public opinion against us and label us thugs," said Ahmed Ali, a student and activist involved in the clashes.

"Since when are buildings or manuscripts more important than the lives of humans?" he added.

Tahrir Supplies, a group that provides medical care to Egyptians injured in Tahrir Square clashes, publicly asked protesters to return any books or maps taken from the library and deposit them at a nearby church. But such a book return appeared daunting Saturday as the neighborhood was embroiled in clashes.

On the streets of Cairo, Egyptian security forces attempted to disperse several hundred pro-democracy demonstrators.

The violence appeared to escalate Saturday morning, with hundreds of army soldiers seen charging through the streets by the Cabinet building, beating and arresting protesters.

A loud explosion was heard from inside the Transport Ministry, where a fierce blaze sent out a huge cloud of smoke. Several other buildings were also on fire and some streets have been barricaded by the military.

Doctors at a makeshift clinic treating injured demonstrators have been attacked. Meanwhile, tents were set alight in Tahrir Square and security forces continued to chase people out of the area.

In a public address, Ganzouri criticized the unrest and urged civilians "to protect Egypt."

He described the violence of recent days as an "attack on revolution" and condemned protesters for throwing stones and damaging public property. He also denied the use by security forces of live ammunition against demonstrators.

"We need to focus on rebuilding the country and the economy," he said.

Activists have been camping outside parliament in protest over Ganzouri's appointment.

Among a number of demonstrators detained during the clashes was Samira Ibrahim, who has taken the military to court for allegedly conducting "forced virginity tests" on her in March after she was arrested during protests in Tahrir Square.

On Saturday, she was briefly detained and then released.

Adel Saeed, a spokesman for the general prosecutor, said Friday that an investigation is under way into the latest violence.

"We are questioning 14 men detained at scene of clashes and we have a team now at two hospitals questioning the injured to understand how the injuries were inflicted," he said.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said in a statement that the military did not use any live ammunition and that its duty is to protect the Cabinet building, which has been breached by protesters.

Protesters said they had also clashed overnight with "military thugs," who the activists believe are paid by the military to attack them.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Saturday that his country is "deeply concerned" by the violence and condemns "use of excessive force against the demonstrators."

"France reaffirms its commitment to the continuation of the current electoral process in Egypt and to a democratic transition in which violence has no place and which should lead to the transfer of power to elected civilian authorities," he said.

On Friday, CNN reporters in Cairo saw several hundred army soldiers rush at the protesters, beating them with sticks and using electric shock devices, as well as chasing them into side streets.

Troops were seen removing a girl's veil and beating an older woman until she apologized. They also smashed and confiscated journalists' cameras, and were seen beating up a journalist working for Al-Jazeera English.

A Ministry of Interior official denied police were involved in the unrest.

"This situation has nothing to do with the police or the Ministry of Interior, and we do not have forces at the site of the clashes," said Gen. Marwan Mustapha, a ministry spokesman.

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