CAIRO — Egyptian troops blasted protesters with water cannons, tear gas and live ammunition, trying to prevent them from marching on the Defense Ministry on Friday in clashes that left one soldier dead and hundreds of people injured just three weeks ahead of presidential elections.
The fierce street battles raised fears of a new cycle of violence surrounding the forthcoming vote to replace Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted more than a year ago. For the first time in Egypt's chaotic transition, hard-line Islamists, rather than secular forces, were at the forefront of the confrontation with the military rulers who have been accused of trying to cling to power.
The military council imposed a curfew of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on the area surrounding the Defense Ministry, which has emerged as a flash point for the protesters' anger after nine people were killed on Wednesday in clashes between unidentified assailants and protesters who mainly comprised supporters of a disqualified Islamist presidential candidate.
The violence has thrown the campaign for the May 23-24 vote into turmoil, with two front-runners and several other candidates temporarily suspending their campaigns to protest the military's handling of the situation.
Thousands of demonstrators massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square — the epicenter of last year's popular uprising — earlier Friday for what has become a weekly rally to demand that the generals speed up a transition to civilian rule.
The Health Ministry said one soldier was killed and at least 373 people were injured. More than 170 were arrested by the military, according to a security official.