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Egyptian troops attack protesters

Thousands of Egyptian women have taken to the streets of Cairo in a mass demonstration against the military's brutality against women during a crackdown on protesters that shocked many in the largely conservative society.

Ringed by a protective chain of male protesters, women from different social classes and religious backgrounds gathered in Tahrir Square and marched through the streets.

Many carried signs with images of soldiers dragging protesters by the hair and kicking and stamping on them on the ground.

One image was particularly shocking, showing a veiled woman who had been partially stripped by soldiers who dragged and beat her on the ground.

"They say they are here to protect us, but they are stripping us naked," the chants echoed through the streets.

The march was a rare protest by women and its numbers - about 10,000 some estimated - underlined the depth of anger over the images from the fierce crackdown over the past five days against protesters demanding the ruling military step down.

Before the protest was over, the ruling military council issued an unusual apology for what it called "violations" - a quick turnaround after days of dismissing the significance of the abuse.

The council expressed "deep regret to the great women of Egypt" and reaffirmed "its respect and total appreciation for the women of Egypt and their right to protest, effectively and positively participate in the political life on the road to the democratic transition". It promised it was taking measures to punish those responsible for violations.

"The girl dragged around is just like my daughter. They do that and then call us thugs," said Um Hossam, a 54-year old woman in traditional black dress and a veil. "I am a free woman and attacking this woman or killing protesters is just like going after one of my own children."

The attacks on the women came in fierce clashes under way since Friday as troops broke up protests by activists demanding the immediate end to the rule of the military, which took power after the February 11 fall of Hosni Mubarak.

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