CAIRO: Egyptian protesters firebombed one of the offices of satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera on Wednesday and attacked a police chief who tried to negotiate an end to three days of violent protests in central Cairo.
The protesters hit the TV studio overlooking Tahrir Square with firebombs, engulfing it in flames. In a televised interview from inside the gutted office, reporter Ahmed el-Dassouki said around 300 protesters approached the building before noon, shouting obscenities.
He said they set the place on fire, stormed the building and looted the studio. "They accuse our network of being biased and not objective," he said. Many protesters had accused the channel of bias in favor of the country's most powerful political force, the Muslim Brotherhood.
After the attack, a crowd assaulted Cairo Police Chief Osama el-Saghir, who went to Tahrir Square to diffuse the situation, a security official said. Protesters drove El-Saghir from the square with punches and kicks, the official added, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
Fire crews rushed to put out the office blaze as dozens of onlookers watched smoke and flames shoot from the balcony.
Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal Eddin said police had arrested 118 protesters since clashes broke out Monday.
"We have more than once restrained ourselves... and our forces have been wounded, but we will not stay with our hands tied or else people will hold us responsible," he said during a press conference in Cairo.
Scores of protesters have been wounded with birdshot and tear gas fired by police.
The Brotherhood's political party said in a statement on Facebook Wednesday that the protests were aimed at creating chaos as part of a wider scheme to derail the revolution. The language of the statement was similar to that of the transitional military council that administered Egypt after the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak last year, when the military was in power and its forces were entangled in clashes with protesters.
The protesters Wednesday demand retribution for last year's deadly confrontation between police and demonstrators when security forces moved to break up a sit-in by people injured during last year's uprising. It set off days of violence that left 42 dead and hundreds wounded.
Monday was the anniversary of those clashes.
"The scenario repeats itself every time, but we are aware of this. People are calling on us to use force and occupy Tahrir Square," Gamal Eddin told reporters, "but we have policies that see the purpose behind this and what it would mean for us to go into Tahrir."
The Interior Minister admitted that his police forces have been unable to determine who was behind past protests, including last year's attacks on government buildings that protesters blamed on paid thugs.
"The problem is we reach a certain point and then the link in the chain breaks because these people are trained and have trainers who know how to hide," he said.
Last year's violence was before Mohammed Morsi of the Brotherhood was elected president, while the country was run by the military. Morsi took office in late June.
This week's protesters, mostly disgruntled youth, feel Morsi has done little to address their demand that security officers be held accountable for the killings of protesters.
Demonstrator Walid Farag said the president was too busy with foreign policy and had not delivered on his domestic promises.
"How come he (Morsi) doesn't come out and speak with the youth," Farag asked.
Some of the protesters called for an open sit-in starting Friday to also demand the dissolution of the Islamist-led body writing the country's new constitution. Liberals and seculars have denounced proposed changes in wording about the role of religion.
"We came here to demand the rights of our martyrs. The security forces wanted to award them with more martyrs," protester Samuel Sobhi said.