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Tahrir Square is back

If it hadn't been clear already, it should now be obvious that the military junta running Egypt -- the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- is doing a terrible job.

Once again, thousands of angry protesters have taken over the area in and around Tahrir Square, amid the worst scenes of violence in Cairo since the events of Jan. 25 and Jan. 28. Intense battles involving rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and massive amounts of tear gas are ongoing even now, nearly 24 hours after they began.

The details are sketchy, but from what I can piece together from online accounts, what happened was this: For the past few days, families of those killed during the revolution have been camped out in front of the state television building, demanding justice and accountablity for the deaths. Yesterday, some of them heard about a commemoration that was happening a few blocks south for families of martyrs, and wanted to attend. As it turned out, the event was to commemorate members of the police killed during the uprising, and the protesters weren't admitted. An ugly scuffle broke out, which you can see here:

 

Things quickly devolved from there, as the families and their supporters took their protest over to the Interior Ministry. Cairo's famous thugs -- some accounts say from the neighborhood' others suggest they were plainclothes police -- suddenly made an appearance, fighting broke out, and then the black-clad Central Security Forces drove the demonstrators back to Tahrir Square. A few thousand protesters arrived to bolster the protesters, and a nasty street battle has raged ever since (you can listen to the Guardian's Jack Shenker's account here) -- creeping ever closer back toward the hated Interior Ministry. This was what the scene looked like last night:

 

If the riot's origins are murky, so are its aims. What's clear is that the anger is mounting. Alaa Abd El Fattah, a well-known Egyptian activist, probably spoke for many when he tweeted, "dont ask me how it started, Ive no idea, most of us don't care, there is police and there is us, there is tear gas and there is rocks." The clashes have become a contest of wills between the street and the police, with neither side willing to back down. Dozens, if not hundreds, have been injured, ad hoc medical clinics have been set up, and the April 6 protest movement has called for a sit-in.

Here we go again?

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Kucinich: Syrian press 'mistranslated' me

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) raised a few eyebrows yesterday when CNN correspondent Hala Gorani revealed on Twitter that she had run into the congressman in Damascus. Kucinich said that he was on a "fact-finding" mission to Syria and Lebanon and had met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for three hours.

As my office mate Joshua Keating points out, the Assad regime was quick to exploit Kucinich's visit for political gain. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) quoted him as saying that Assad "is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians," and warning darkly about "some who want to give a wrong picture about what is going on in Syria."

But Kucinich said in a statement that SANA's story didn't accurately convey his remarks, though he refused to accuse the Syrian regime of willful distortion. "Arab-speaking friends accompanying me have explained that the problem may have come from a mistranslation," the congressman wrote, noting the problem may also have stemmed from "the degree of appreciation and affection their state-sponsored media has for President Assad."

"Given the stakes for Syria and the region, I will consider the article only an error, not a willful intent to mischaracterize my statements or my efforts in the region," he said.

But that explanation doesn't make any sense. Kucinich doesn't speak Arabic, so his remarks were presumably in English, and SANA's article is written in English -- so no translation should have been necessary. Kucinich's press office in Washington did not immediately respond to a query on this point. It seems eminently obvious that SANA was exploiting Kucinich's presence as evidence of international support for the Assad regime -- something the congressman should have known they would do before he arrived in Damascus.

Kucinich's full statement is after the jump.

Today, the Syrian Arab News Agency published an article that contained a number of mistranslations and mischaracterized statements that I made during a news conference in Damascus.

While on fact-finding mission in Syria, I was asked to share my initial reactions with some journalists, which I did. During my remarks I stressed the importance of the government paying attention to the democratic aspirations of the people of Syria. It is up to the people of Syria to decide the future of their government. There is a process of national dialogue beginning and this process is important. It is important that the Assad government listen carefully to the just demands and act positively to fulfill the democratic aspirations of the people of Syria. The process of national dialogue which has now begun is a step in the direction of identifying necessary reforms.

I did not come to Syria with my mind made up. After discussions with people at many different levels of society, I am convinced of the need for honesty, fairness and dialogue.

A story written about my remarks by the Syrian Arab News Agency unfortunately mistranslated several of my statements and did not reflect my direct quotes. Arab-speaking friends accompanying me have explained that the problem may have come from a mistranslation as well as the degree of appreciation and affection their state-sponsored media has for President Assad.

It is unfortunate that translation errors can create such problems. Given the stakes for Syria and the region, I will consider the article only an error, not a willful intent to mischaracterize my statements or my efforts in the region.

I intend to continue my efforts to determine as best I can exactly what is happening in Syria, ever more mindful of the maxim, "lost in translation."

J.D. Pooley/Getty Images