Police, demonstrators clash at rally in Egypt

Thousands of riot police clubbed and arrested protesters and journalists yesterday as the Egyptian government clamped down on a demonstration organized to support pro-reform judges.

Carrying shields and sticks, police and plainclothes security officers flooded the streets of the capital in the morning, sealing off roads, closing subway stations, and waiting for protests to begin. As chanting bands of demonstrators attempted to coalesce into a street protest, the riot police swarmed. Men and women were dragged over asphalt, kicked, and beaten bloody. Many were forced into police vehicles and taken away.

Journalists attempting to cover the protest also came under attack. Among those assaulted were a Reuters photographer, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera, and a Los Angeles Times reporter.

''I've never seen the level of brutality I saw today," said Rabab Mahdi, a 31-year-old political science lecturer at American University in Cairo.

The attack on demonstrators was the latest eruption amid a general crackdown on Egypt's fledgling, grass-roots democracy movement. Despite the promises of political change and the air of relative liberty that gripped the country last year, Hosni Mubarak's regime now appears keen to silence, or at least quiet, dissent.

Dozens of opposition figures, including activists from the Muslim Brotherhood and antigovernment leftists, have been jailed. More than 50 prodemocracy activists are held in the notorious Tora Prison, south of Cairo. They include prominent blogger Alaa Seif al-Islam, whose website has been publishing virulent anti-Mubarak writings and photographs. About 40 of the inmates are said to be carrying on a hunger strike to protest their prison conditions.

The Egyptian government has postponed for two years local elections that were to be held in April. It has renewed its controversial emergency law, which allows for arbitrary arrest and detention without charge. The lifting of the emergency law was a key promise in Mubarak's election campaign.

Attempts to reach Egyptian officials for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

In Washington, the State Department strongly criticized the Egyptian government's actions, reports Boston Globe.

I.L.