CAIRO - Egyptian troops and riot police raided Cairo's Tahrir Square early on Tuesday in their latest attempt to evict protesters who want the ruling military to immediately step down, according to a field hospital doctor.
It was the second pre-dawn raid in as many days on the city's central square. It comes as Egypt's ruling generals are coming under mounting criticism at home and abroad over the excessive use of force by troops against unarmed protesters, including women, since the latest spate of violence broke out on Friday. At least 14 protesters have since been killed.
A 15-year-old protester was in critical condition after suffering a gunshot wound in Tuesday's attack, said Dr. Ahmed Saad, a volunteer at the field hospital in Tahrir Square.
The troops and police initially succeeded in chasing the protesters out of the square, but they returned a short time later using a different route. The security forces pulled out of the square following clashes in which each side pelted the other with rocks.
The military took power after an 18-day uprising forced longtime leader Hosni Mubarak to step down 10 months ago. They have since been accused by activists and rights groups of mismanaging the transition period, human rights abuses and failing to revive the ailing economy or restore security.
A member of the military council on Monday sought to discredit the revolutionaries behind Mubarak's ouster and the ongoing round of protests, questioning their motives and morals and speaking of a conspiracy to "topple the state" by parties he did not identify. He also lashed out at the media, saying it was fomenting sedition.
Maj. Gen. Adel Emara also defended the use of force by troops, saying they had a duty to defend the state's institutions amd declined to offer an apology for the brutality shown by troops toward female protesters and which have been documented by activists and posted on social network sites and splashed on the front pages of independent newspapers.
The image of a young woman being dragged on the ground, stripped half naked and stomped on by soldiers stood out as the most compelling of the images used by the activists against the soldiers' handling of the protesters. Emara did not dispute the authenticity of the image, but said Egyptians should not see it without considering the circumstances surrounding the incident. He did not elaborate.
The brutality shown by the troops to protesters, particularly the women, drew the ire of the U.N. rights chief and unusually harsh words from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Addressing students at Georgetown University on Monday, Clinton said the events in Egypt in recent days were shocking and accused the Egyptian security forces and extremists of specifically targeting women.
"And now, women are being attacked, stripped, and beaten in the streets," she said. "This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people."
During Monday's nationally televised news conference, Emara dodged most of the reporters' questions, went into long rants against the protesters and the media, threatened a female reporter he would throw her out if she interrupted again and abruptly ended the session after taking only a handful of questions.
Navi Pillay, the U.N.'s human rights chief, called on the ruling generals to arrest and prosecute officials behind the crackdown. Pillay called the graphic images of protesters being smashed on the head and body with clubs long after they stopped resisting "utterly shocking."
Amnesty International issued a statement Monday calling on nations to stop selling small arms and ammunition to Egypt.
In the wake of the violence in Cairo, the rights group said it can no longer be considered acceptable to supply the Egyptian army with the types of equipment used to disperse protesters.
The Tuesday edition of the independent Al-Tahrir newspaper has on its front page a composite picture of Emara addressing the news conference with the photo of the soldiers stomping on and beating the half naked woman projected on the wall behind him.
Mocking the generals' repeated use of the patriotic card in defense of their record, the words "Egypt always comes first" were written below the image.
Fueling the outrage over the troops' rough handling of protesters, a retired army general known to be linked to the ruling military council told a newspaper interviewer this week that the protesters should be thrown into "Hitler's ovens," a reference to one of the methods used by Nazi Germany in the Holocaust.