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Egypt's government apologizes after beating is televised

CAIRO — Egypt's interior minister offered a rare apology on Saturday after officers under his command were seen on television beating a naked man two blocks from the presidential palace. But under what his family said was police coercion, the victim, Hamada Saber, said in an interview later that the officers had been helping rather than attacking him.

The spectacle of the beating quickly revived fury at Egypt's police force, whose record of brutality helped set off the revolt against Hosni Mubarak, the former president, and served as a reminder that nearly two years later, the new president, Mohammed Morsi, has taken few steps to reform the police.

Morsi's office issued a statement saying it was "pained by the shocking footage."

More than 50 people have been killed over the past 10 days in fighting in several Egyptian cities, in some of the worst violence since the fall of Mubarak in 2011. The beating of Saber provoked a different kind of outrage, crystallizing for many the collapse of order and civility that has derailed Egypt's transition from its authoritarian past.

In video images, riot police officers are heard cursing at Saber on Friday night as they beat him on the ground and dragged him to an armored vehicle. A witness, Mai Sirry, said that when she saw Saber, his pants were around his knees. In its initial statement, the Interior Ministry said it regretted the beating and called it an "individual attack" that did not reflect police doctrine.

Later, though, in a TV interview, Saber gave an account of the beating from his hospital bed in which he said the officers had come to help as he was running from a group of protesters who had stripped and robbed him.

"I was afraid," he said, adding that as he ran away from the protesters, officers came to help. He ran from them too, but they pulled him back, he said, telling him he would die if he did not let them help him.

A woman who identified herself as Saber's daughter Randa, speaking Saturday on another Egyptian channel, said her father was being prompted to lie during the interview and was "afraid to talk."

Speaking to local media on Saturday, the interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, said that after Saber was released from the hospital, he would invite him to the ministry's offices to offer his apologies. He repeated Saber's account, though he still acknowledged that the officers' conduct was "excessive" and said he had ordered an investigation.

The latest outbreak of violence deepened the sense of crisis in Egypt. After the clashes, supporters and opponents of Morsi blamed each other.

In Tahrir Square early Saturday morning, Morsi's prime minister, Hesham Qandil, bore the brunt of the antigovernment anger. He was forced to cut short his visit to protest tents in the square after he was heckled, according to state media. His office said Qandil left to avoid creating a "pretext" for violence.

Egypt's government apologizes after beating is televised 02/02/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 2, 2013 10:58pm]

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