Cairo — Egypt's ruling military questioned the morals of a female detainee, accused a prominent publisher of incitement and bashed the media for allegedly working to destabilize the country in a new effort to crush the pro-democracy movement trying to oust the generals.
The criticism, delivered by a member of the ruling military council in a nationally televised news conference, came hours after troops in riot gear swept through Cairo's Tahrir Square, opening fire on protesters and lobbing tear gas into the crowds. At least three people were killed, pushing the death toll for four days of clashes to 14.
Maj. Gen. Adel Emara, a member of the council that took power after Hosni Mubarak's February ouster in a popular uprising, defended the use of force against protesters.
"There is a methodical and premeditated plot to topple the state, but Egypt will not fall," said Emara. "The media is helping sabotage the state. This is certain," he added.
Violence has been raging in Cairo since Friday, when military forces guarding the Cabinet building near Tahrir Square heavily cracked down on a 3-week-old sit-in to demand the ruling generals immediately hand power to a civilian authority. Tahrir was the center of the uprising and remains the base of the democracy movement's ongoing protests.
The raid early Monday appeared to be an attempt by the military to keep protesters away from key government buildings near the square, including parliament, the Cabinet headquarters and the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the hated police.
The protesters have decried the military's heavy-handed crackdown, with activists flooding social networking sites and other media with photos and video of troops beating and attacking protesters.
Widely circulated footage shows an army officer firing a pistol at protesters — though it is not clear whether he was using live ammunition. Other images show soldiers dragging women by the hair and ferociously beating, kicking and stomping on protesters cowering on the ground. Another video showed soldiers dragging a woman, stripping her half naked and stomping on her as she lay on the ground.
The intensity of the campaign by the social-media savvy protesters is apparently fueling an increasingly harsh response by the military, both on the ground and on the airwaves.
Another factor could be the weak showing of the secular and liberal youth behind the uprising in parliamentary elections. The decimation of revolutionary parties at the polls may have emboldened the military to carry out the latest crackdown, in which troops dealt with the protesters much more roughly than at any time since Mubarak's ouster.
Islamists swept two of three rounds of phased parliamentary elections that began last month, with a third and final round in January not expected to alter the outcome much. The strongest liberal bloc came in third place.
The elections were the first since Mubarak's ouster and, by all accounts, have been the freest and fairest in Egypt's modern history. They were the first litmus test of the strength of Egypt's post-revolutionary political forces.
The Islamist groups that won an overwhelming majority of the seats contested so far have stayed clear of the latest protests, fearing their participation would jeopardize their electoral gains.
The military's heavy-handedness drew the ire of the U.N.'s human rights chief on Monday. Navi Pillay called on the ruling generals to arrest and prosecute military and security officials behind the latest crackdown. Pillay called the graphic images of protesters being smashed on the head and body with clubs long after they stopped resisting "utterly shocking." She also demanded a full investigation into all killings, torture and use of excessive force in Egypt in recent months.
Emara, the Egyptian general, said the security forces have a duty to protect the nation's installations and cannot stand by while protesters try to destroy state property.
"What are we supposed to do when protesters break the law? Should we invite people from abroad to govern our nation?" said Emara. He said an investigation into the clashes and the media's coverage of them was under way.
The general showed footage at his news conference clearly aimed at discrediting those involved in the protest movement.
One image was clearly designed to raise questions about a female detainee's morals. It showed the woman talking about her husband, but then later saying she was not married to her partner. The military has been accused of other forms of sexual harassment of female detainees since it has been in power. Human rights groups say they administered "virginity tests" to some.
In footage Emara said was taken by the military, men appeared to be rejoicing over setting a government building ablaze. Other images showed a male protester romantically embracing a young woman.
Another video showed a young man in detention saying that prominent publisher Mohammed Hashem was using his downtown Cairo office near Tahrir as headquarters for an incitement ring, distributing food, helmets and gas masks to protesters. Hashem is a lifelong leftist credited with publishing young novelists and poets whose works have over the past decade become the nation's literary landmarks. His Merit publishing house is a gathering place for young, left-leaning intellectuals, who often congregate there to discuss politics and culture.
Other footage showed a young protester who said he was being paid about $20 a day to pelt security forces with rocks.
There were also images of some two dozen detained young men, their faces bruised and bleeding, squatting on the floor while army soldiers stood over them.
Ahmed Saad, a field hospital doctor who witnessed the early Monday crackdown, said six people were killed by gunshots, giving a toll twice that of the Health Ministry's. He said troops stormed a mosque on the square that is partially used as a hospital, beating up protesters who spent the night inside.
"It was like a rain of bullets in the early morning," he said.
In the middle of violence over the weekend, a research center set up during France's three-year occupation of Egypt in the late 18th century caught fire and was gutted. On Monday, archive officials and dozens of volunteering protesters tried to salvage valuable books and documents from the center, hauling smoldering books onto a truck waiting outside a basement window.
The two-story building is in danger of collapsing after the roof caved in.
Inside the building, there were piles of burnt furniture, twisted metal and demolished walls. A double human chain by protesters surrounded the building to protect the contents.
Emara said protesters were to blame for the fire and that they prevented fire engines from reaching the site to put out the blaze and claimed that protesters pelted the vehicles with rocks and firebombs when they tried to reach the site. One soldier driving a fire engine was killed, he said without giving details.
Protesters and witnesses however say the building caught fire because soldiers used the roof of the building to hurl firebombs and rocks on protesters below.