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Forces clear away Egypt protesters

Egyptian forces swinging electrified batons have chased off dozens of activists who had refused to end four weeks of renewed protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square to put pressure on the country's transitional military rulers.

Hundreds of riot police backed by armoured vehicles and soldiers moved in to tear down the camp of dozens of tents after a group of activists - some of them relatives of people killed in the uprising which toppled Hosni Mubarak in February - refused pleas over loudspeakers to go home. Some in the crowd hurled stones at the police.

Firing shots in the air and using clubs, Egyptian forces cleared the square within minutes.

With Mubarak's trial on charges that he ordered the killing of protesters due to start on Wednesday, the ruling military council appeared to run out of patience with the protesters, whose key demand is to see the former president and other members of his regime face justice.

Nevertheless, some were surprised by Monday's security sweep, especially as it came at the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting which is traditionally a time of forgiveness and tolerance.

"Attacking the families of martyrs and the people protecting them in the square seems weird. I didn't think this could happen on the first day of Ramadan," said activist Omar Kamel.

"The square is the symbol of the revolution and its continuation, as many people use it to press for unmet goals," said political analyst Ammar Ali Hassan. "This clashes with the military rulers' views, who want the pressure to stop."

Breaking up the encampment, which was set up on July 8, appeared inevitable. Most of the several hundred activists who had been camping there had already decided to end the sit-in at the start of Ramadan. A small group of activists, many of them relatives of killed protesters, refused to go before Mubarak sets foot in a courtroom.

Activist Lilian Wagdy, who was in Tahrir Square when the forces charged in, said the clashes began when some protesters tried to stop police from entering through makeshift checkpoints.

"They beat people with sticks and electrified batons. I don't see why they had to use excessive force like this," she said.

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