William Hague has condemned violence in Egypt as he insisted the Arab Spring must remain on track.
After a weekend of bloodshed saw 13 people killed in clashes between demonstrators and security forces in Cairo, the Foreign Secretary said the situation was “of great concern”.
Mr Hague urged Egypt’s interim military rulers to complete the transition to democracy following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in February. With elections due next week, he told BBC Radio: “If the revolution in Egypt was about anything it was presumably about that.”
In Egypt’s Tahrir Square – where police and army launched the bloody attack on Saturday – British woman Bel Trew said protesters were shot at and attacked with bats and tear gas. The protesters fear the ruling military is making a power grab and attempting to suspend elections.
Freelance journalist Miss Trew and her filmmaker sister Cressida – who filmed the events – witnessed the latest chaotic scenes as the demonstrators refused to leave the square where they toppled Mubarak’s regime in February.
“There was one group of at least 20 protesters left in the square who were cornered by the military in a kettle. They were beaten heavily and were trampled and when the military stepped back I saw about five or six bodies,” Miss Trew said.
“There was one body separated from the group and two men tried to resuscitate him. But then what looked like a plain clothes military police officer dragged him by his arms to a heap of bodies and rubbish.”
In the film, which the sisters have posted on YouTube, the man has a stick in one had and uses his other to drag the body.
Miss Trew said: “When he is finished an officer dressed in riot gear pats the man on the back. I wasn’t scared but when I saw the dead body I was extremely upset.
“The most traumatic and offensive thing was the treatment of the body because this boy’s trousers had come halfway down his legs.”
Clashes went on through the night until about 3am today when a ceasefire was brokered by local mosques.
Miss Trew said: “On Saturday, they also beat up journalists, including a cameraman from an Egyptian newspaper who lost his eye from the rubber ‘bird shot’ pellets being fired.
“Yesterday, the military got involved and sandwiched protesters between soldiers and the police. They came with riot shields, very large sticks, tear gas. The soldiers were telling the protesters: ‘You deserve it.’
Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad is also continuing a crackdown against pro-democracy protesters, but Mr Hague denied that hopes for democracy in the Arab world were fading.
“We should remain on the optimistic side of what is happening in the Arab Spring, although there will be many conflicts and difficulties along the way,” he said. The Foreign Secretary attacked the behaviour of Assad’s regime in Syria as “appalling and unacceptable” and vowed the UK would “do what we can to support democracy in the future”.
He is meeting with Syrian opposition leaders in London today but warned against comparisons with Libya, where UK forces helped overthrow Colonel Gaddafi, instead saying the UK would “increase the pressure” on Assad. Mr Hague also called for Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif, captured in Libya at the weekend, to be tried to “international standards” – whether by the International Criminal Court or in his own country.
And he revealed that fresh sanctions would soon be imposed on Iran amid fears the country is seeking to build nuclear weapons. He refusing to rule out military action but said: “That is not what we are pushing for.”