CAIRO — Egyptian riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets stormed into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday to dismantle a protest tent camp, setting off clashes that killed one protester, injured nearly 700 and raised tensions days before the first elections since Hosni Mubarak's ouster.
The violence raised fears of new unrest surrounding the parliamentary elections, which begin on Nov. 28 and will be held in stages continuing through March. Public anger has risen over the slow pace of reforms and apparent attempts by Egypt's ruling generals to retain power over a future civilian government.
The scenes of protesters fighting with black-clad police forces were reminiscent of the 18-day uprising that forced an end to Mubarak's rule in February. Hundreds of protesters fought back, hurling stones and setting an armored police vehicle ablaze.
The police were a hated symbol of Mubarak's regime.
"The people want to topple the regime," shouted enraged crowds, reviving the chant from the early days of the uprising. Crowds also screamed: "Riot police are thugs and thieves" and "Down with the Marshal," referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's military ruler.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf urged the protesters to clear the square.
"What is happening in Tahrir is very dangerous and threatens the course of the nation and the revolution," the Cabinet warned in a statement.
Police arrested 18 people, state TV reported, describing the protesters as rioters.
Witnesses said the clashes began when riot police dismantled a small tent camp set up to commemorate the hundreds of protesters killed in the uprising and attacked around 200 peaceful demonstrators who had camped in the square overnight in an attempt to restart a long-term sit-in there.
Saturday's confrontation was one of the few since the uprising to involve police forces, which have largely stayed in the background while the military takes charge of security. There was no military presence in and around the square on Saturday.
Human rights activists accused police of using excessive force. Prominent activist Malek Mostafa was one of at least four people injured in the eyes by rubber bullets, said Ghada Shahbender, a member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.