CAIRO — Hundreds of military policemen and dozens of armed men in civilian clothes drove protesters from Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, ripping down tents and smashing signs the protesters had displayed through their weeks of protest.
Human rights advocates said they had confirmed the names of 39 people who'd been arrested and that perhaps a total of 150 had been detained.
Witnesses reported that the army stood by as armed civilians beat the demonstrators.
"When the army started moving, protesters cheered them, thinking they would defend them against the thugs," said Michael Sadler, an American tourist who was heading to Tahrir Square to renew his visa. Instead, Sadler said, "The army joined in and attacked the protesters."
"One of the thugs waved his bat at me while another was brutally beating a protester," Sadler said. "I turned around and tried entering the square from another street. I saw the army attacking protesters and I ran away."
Dozens of people were reported injured or detained. Television footage from the square showed military policemen beating protesters as they dragged them to armored personnel carriers. Witnesses said that soldiers chased two foreign reporters from the square.
Ahmed Ragheb, a member of the Protesters Defense Front, said his group was working to determine the identities of those detained. The front had distributed its phone numbers on social networking sites, urging witnesses to report any arrests.
"Our sources in Tahrir Square said that dozens were injured," he said.
Shop owners and pedestrians around the square cheered the army while it attacked protesters, a sign of division between Egyptians over the sit-in that's been held in Tahrir Square since July 8.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces accused organizers of the sit-in of taking money from foreign countries to instigate strife between the army and the Egyptian people.
Two hours after the attacks, traffic flowed into the famous square for the first time in weeks.
The breakup of the demonstration came two days before the scheduled start of the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak on charges that he plotted the deaths of protesters during the 18 days of demonstrations that led to his resignation.
The head of the Cairo Security Department, Gen. Mohsen Morad, said the move was necessary because of the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during daylight hours. He denied that there'd been any violence against demonstrators.
"Evacuating the square fulfilled the wishes of the Egyptian people," Morad said. "Blocking Tahrir Square paralyzed the city's traffic. It is very difficult for people to tolerate this in the fasting month of Ramadan."
(Sabry is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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