Sinai Bedouin clash with police, 1 officer hurt

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ISMAILIA, Egypt, Oct 7 (Reuters) Hundreds of Bedouin burned tyres and smashed windows of a government building in an Egyptian border town, protesting police had not protected them against hostile tribesmen, police and witnesses said today.

They said the protesters, members of a Sinai tribe called El-Fawakhria, took to the streets in the northern Sinai town of El-Arish hours after hundreds of gunmen from another clan attacked them in a tribal dispute.

Security officials said the demonstrators pelted police with rocks, injuring one officer.

Ibrahim, a protester who refused to give his full name, said police opened fire on the crowd, wounding a young man.

''The situation is very bad ... But we will remain on the streets to protest that the police did not protect us,'' he told Reuters by telephone early today.

Security officials said police did not open fire but erected roadblocks to stop the crowd moving forward. One official said the protesters also smashed the windows of a state-owned bank.

Witnesses said a fight on Saturday between a member of El-Fawakhria and a man from the El-Tarrabeen tribe of central Sinai had triggered the incident.

Hundreds of El-Tarrabeen members, riding in trucks and carrying automatic rifles, later attacked the town and opened fire in a neighbourhood dominated by El-Fawakhria, wounding five its its people.

Many Bedouin in northern and central Sinai, who have a reputation for ignoring state rule, own guns and ammunition illegally. They say owning weapons is a tribal tradition that has become more important because of the security forces' heavy-handed behaviour.

Egyptian police regularly find tonnes of explosives, guns and ammunition hidden in Sinai, much of which they say is destined for smuggling through tunnels across the border into the Palestinian territories.

REUTERS TB AS0611

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