(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Thousands of Egyptian women marched in the streets of Cairo on Tuesday, protesting abuse by soldiers, the Associated Press reported.
Footage of protests shows soldiers dragged women by the hair, stomped on them and stripped one half naked on the street while cracking down on anti-military protesters in scenes that shocked many in the conservative society.
The march was a rare protest by women and its numbers - about 10,000 by some estimates - underlined the depth of anger over the images from the fierce crackdown over the past five days on protesters demanding the ruling military step down immediately.
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.
Ringed by a protective chain of male protesters, women from different social classes and religious background gathered in Tahrir Square and marched through the streets of Cairo.
Many carried the pictures of soldiers attacking women - particularly one of a veiled woman whose clothes were half pulled off, baring her down to her blue bra, by soldiers who beat her and stomped on her chest.
"They say they are here to protect us, but they are stripping us naked," the marchers chanted.
The attacks on the women came in fierce clashes 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.
The clashes saw military police chasing young men and women through Tahrir Square and nearby streets, beating them with clubs and sticks. The crackdown has killed 13 protesters, mostly from gunshots.
The images of abuse drew the ire of the UN chief and unusually harsh words from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Addressing students at Georgetown University on Monday, Clinton said the events in Egypt in recent days were shocking and accused the Egyptian security forces and extremists of specifically targeting women.
"And now, women are being attacked, stripped, and beaten in the streets," she said. "This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonours the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people."
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Egyptian police and soldiers firing guns and tear gas fought to clear protesters from Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday.
In a statement, the ruling army council called for an "end to all manifestations of violence" and said the law should be upheld while "respecting the dignity of the Egyptian citizen, men and women".
Gunfire rang out across Tahrir Square at dawn as security forces charged hundreds of protesters attempting to hold their ground, activists and a Reuters journalist at the scene said.
After a night of clashes, hundreds of protesters demanding an immediate end to army rule were in Tahrir in the morning.
Army generals and their advisers have condemned the pro-democracy protesters.
"What is your feeling when you see Egypt and its history burn in front of you?" retired general Abdel Moneim Kato, an army adviser, told Al Shorouk daily, referring to a government archive building set alight during clashes.
"Yet you worry about a vagrant who should be burnt in Hitler's incinerators."
Those comments drew fierce criticism from politicians and rights groups, saying they would stir further violence.
"The least that can be said about such comments is they are irresponsible and he must be punished for them, publicly and transparently," the Arab Network for Human Rights said, adding that "his Nazi opinions, incite hatred, and justify violence". Before the latest charge by the security forces in Tahrir, protesters had been trying to tear down a brick wall the army had put up to block access to parliament, located nearby, Reuters reported.
"Hundreds of state security forces and the army entered the square and began firing heavily. They chased protesters and burned anything in their way, including medical supplies and blankets," said a protester who gave his name only as Ismail.
"Some of those who fell had gunshot wounds to the legs," he added, speaking by telephone from Tahrir.
Politicians and members of parliament who had been staging a sit-in nearby tried to enter the square but were forced to turn back as the gunfire and clashes raged on, Ismail said.
The violent crackdown has alarmed rights groups. Amnesty International urged arms suppliers to stop sending small arms and ammunition to Egypt's military and security forces.
Reporters Without Borders complained of the army's "systematic use of violence against media personnel".