Egypt’s Police Uses American Tear Gas in Cairo’s Tahrir Square

Egypt’s pro-democracy demonstrators say the CS gas being used to disperse them seems more powerful than that used by Cairo police during the popular uprising in February. At one of Tahrir Square’s makeshift hospitals, patients show signs of asphyxiation and experience seizures.

The fighting in darkened streets, suffused with tear gas and eerily illuminated by the flashing lights of police cars and the floodlights of armored personnel carriers, seemed to stand as a metaphor for a political transition that has careened into deep uncertainty just days before elections that were supposed to anchor the shift from military to civilian rule. Photo: Gianluca Grossi/Flickr

Unrest is continuing in Cairo as protesters step up their demand for Egypt’s military rulers to resign.

Street battles with riot police have been heaviest around the fortified interior ministry located on a side street off Tahrir Square.

Army troops have used metal bars and barbed wire to build barricades to separate the protesters and the police on side streets leading from Tahrir to the nearby Interior Ministry. Most of the fighting has been taking place on those side streets.

Tear gas has become a persistent companion in the square, a troublesome cousin who crashes on the couch and fails to leave. Wafting in from the clashes up the street — except in a few rare instances where it has been fired directly onto the square — the gas lingers in the air, causing, from afar, noses to run and a sour taste in the mouth.

One protester, Mahinour, said the number of injured people there was increasing.

“Most of them are suffocating because of gas. This time they are not using tear gas, it’s more nerve gas than tear gas. And as well there are some people injured by rubber bullets,” she said.

Many gas canisters in Tahrir are marked with blue letters that read “Made in USA” and bore the name of the company that produced it: Combined Tactical Systems, in Jamestown, PA.

“Ninety percent of the cases we see of people injured are from tear gas, just normal cases. But since last night, a lot of what they’ve used is some other kind of gas, it’s much stronger. When we start first aid the patients seem normal, but then after a while they start screaming and they lose control over their bodies, and start shaking,” Ali Sharif, a 19-year-old protester, said.

Sharif is one of many around Tahrir who insist that the security forces have recently begun using a more potent form of the gas — CR, rather than the typical CS — or perhaps even nerve agents. (He says he has a canister of “nerve gas” that was made in China at his home.)

Unlike CS, which is commonly used by police and military forces around the world, CR has been connected with fatalities in the past, and evidence exists it may be a carcinogen. The United States military has ceased using CR out of health concerns.

The U.S. State Department denied on Tuesday that the gas was purchased with American “security assistance funds,” but did acknowledge that direct sales between the government and American companies have been authorized in the past.

The clashes, now entering their sixth day, are the longest outbreak of violence since the 18-day uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in February.

The military that seized power with Mr. Mubarak’s fall rebuffed protesters’ demands to surrender authority this week, and the political elite has seemed paralyzed or defensive over the unrest.

The discontent in Tahrir Square has broadened from demands for the generals to cede control and anger over bloodshed into dissatisfaction with a transition that has delivered precious little since the uprising’s heady days in February.

On Tuesday Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, sought to defuse the situation by promising presidential elections by the end of June, six months sooner than planned. The military-appointed civilian cabinet also tendered its resignation.

There were also clashes in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, and in Ismailia, on the Suez Canal.

In Alexandria protests have been smaller than in Cairo, but one protester said clashes were continuing early on Thursday outside the security headquarters.

Television pictures from Ismailia showed armoured vehicles patrolling streets as security forces tried to disperse protesters with volleys of tear gas.

The health ministry said on Wednesday that 35 people had died in clashes since Saturday – all but four in Cairo. Hundreds more have been injured.

State news agency Mena reported that one person had been shot dead in the north-western city of Mersa Matruh as demonstrators tried to storm a police station. [via Huff Post, The New York Times, BBC and CBS]

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