Hormonal contraception linked to HIV risk

Women using the Pill or other hormonal contraceptives are roughly twice as likely to contract HIV or pass on the AIDS virus to a partner, according to a study published on Tuesday.

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The research was carried out among 3,790 heterosexual couples in Africa where one partner had the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while the other was uninfected.

The findings, if confirmed, could have huge repercussions for policies on contraception and HIV prevention.

The authors say it strengthens the need for safe-sex messages, in which the condom is promoted as a shield against the AIDS pathogen.

The couples were monitored for an average of 18 months during which 167 individuals became infected, 73 of them women, according to the study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Transcribed into a benchmark of prevalence, HIV transmissions were 6.61 per 100 person-years in couples where women used hormonal contraception, compared to 3.78 per 100 person-years among those who did not.

Rates of infection from women to men were 2.61 per 100 person-years among women who used hormonal contraception, but 1.51 per 100 person-years among those who did not.

Most of the women who took part in the study used injectable, long-lasting contraceptive forms such as the Depo-Provera shot. Only a small number used the Pill. In the latter group, there was an increase in HIV risk but not big enough to be conclusive.

Over the last two decades, scientists have launched several investigations into whether hormonal contraceptive use affects HIV risk, but the probes have returned conflicting results.

This is the first large-scale study to return clear proof of the risk.

The investigators noted that women who took injectable contraceptives had “raised concentrations” of HIV genetic material in their cervical secretions.

The study, led by Renee Heffron of the University of Washington, suggests that doctors advise women of the potential increased risk and warn them of “dual protection” with condoms.

The study was conducted between 2004 and 2010 in Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia as part of a trial of a therapy against the herpes simplex virus, which is common among people with HIV.

In 2009, more than 33 million people were living with HIV and 2.6 million people became newly infected, according to figures released last year by UNAIDS.

Manning to face charges over WikiLeaks

Bradley Manning, the US soldier alleged to have passed to WikiLeaks a trove of military and diplomatic documents, will have a first hearing before a military court next month, the Pentagon says.

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Manning, who has spent the past year-and-a-half in prison, is to appear before a December 16 tribunal in Fort Meade, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC, military officials say.

Army officials say Manning is to appear at an “Article 32 hearing”, the first step in a court martial that could end up in a life sentence.

“The primary purpose of the Article 32 hearing is to evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the government’s case as well as to provide the defence with an opportunity to obtain pre-trial discovery,” a Pentagon statement said on Monday.

It added that the hearing, which is scheduled to take place the day before his 24th birthday, is “similar to a civilian grand jury, with additional rights afforded to the accused”.

Manning allegedly gave thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, which later published them online. He is charged with “aiding the enemy”, a crime which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Manning is the only suspect facing trial in the United States for the document dump — a massive intelligence breach which led to an embarrassing daily drip of diplomatic revelations and military secrets in newspapers and websites around the world.

Manning, who was arrested in July 2010, served as a US intelligence official in Iraq.

His conditions in detention, which have included solitary confinement and being forced to sleep naked, have drawn the attention of Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and the British government.

Gaddafi urges mass protest

Muammar Gaddafi called on Libyans to take to the streets and wage a campaign of civil disobedience against the country’s new leaders on Thursday, the first word from the fugitive leader in just over two weeks.

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Gadaffi said the National Transitional Council, which has assumed leadership of the country since then-rebel forces swept into Tripoli in late August, has no legitimacy because it was not nominated or appointed by the Libyan people.

Gaddafi made the statement in an poor quality audio recording and it was not possible to verify his identity, but it was broadcast on Syrian-based Al-Rai TV, which has become the mouthpiece of his resistance.

Revolutionary forces, aided by NATO airstrikes, have gained control over most of the North African nation and forced the leader and two of his sons into hiding.

Gaddafi has made several speeches on Al-Rai as he tries to rally supporters, who are still waging fierce resistance in his besieged hometown of Sirte, the town of Bani Walid southeast of Tripoli and pockets in the south.

He was last heard on 20 September calling the revolution a “charade.”

The broadcast comes as NATO mapped out conditions to end the Libya air war.

NATO has vowed to keep bombing until Gadaffi’s forces stop attacking civilians and the new leadership can ensure security across the country.

With Gaddafi diehards surrounded by the new leadership’s forces in Sirte and Bani Walid, and the fallen Libyan leader in hiding, NATO defence ministers set out criteria for terminating the six-month-old mission.

“It’s clear that the end is in sight. Gaddafi forces are fighting for a lost cause,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference on Thursday after two days of talk between NATO defence ministers in Brussels.

“We are determined to pursue our operation as long as threats persist, but to end it as soon as conditions permit,” he said.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said after a working lunch with counterparts that there was a “pretty clear consensus” among alliance ministers on four conditions that need to be met to terminate the mission.

The first condition, he said, is “what happens” in the battle for Gaddafi’s birthplace, Sirte, one of the last two bastions of the former regime along with the southern desert town of Bani Walid.

The three other conditions included whether Gaddafi forces maintained the capability to attack civilians, whether Gaddafi himself could command fighters and whether the new leadership could secure the country.

He says they’re determined to pursue their operation as long as threats persist, but to end it as soon as conditions permit.

Volatile Kyrgyzstan heads to polls

The election is a race between Prime Minister Almazbek Atambeyev, a moderate who is reassuring to the West, and two more nationalist candidates who have vowed mass protests if the polls after not fair.

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The vote is a key test for the ex-Soviet nation of 5.3 million people neighbouring China after the unrest of 2010. In its 20 years of independence, Kyrgyzstan has yet to see a peaceful transition of presidential power.

A steady stream of voters, many wearing the traditional rimmed kolpak hat, cast their ballots in Bishkek, and early signs were of a strong turnout in the election with 9.67 percent casting their ballots by 0600 GMT, the central election commission said.

“I am confident that the people of Kyrgyzstan today will vote calmly and quietly, without any negative displays, for their nation’s future,” outgoing President Roza Otunbayeva – who is not standing – said as she cast her vote.

Otunbayeva took power in 2010 after an uprising ousted the regime of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, blamed for rampant corruption and cronyism. She set about creating the only parliamentary democracy in Central Asia.

The April 2010 uprising was the second revolution of Kyrgyzstan’s independence after the 2005 Tulip Revolution that ousted post-Soviet leader Askar Akayev and installed Bakiyev in his place.

But Otunbayeva was immediately faced with the worst crisis in Kyrgyzstan’s post-Soviet history when some 470 people were killed in violence in the south between the majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbek community.

“I know that the people of Kyrgyzstan value peace. We stood at the abyss a year ago and we understand the value of unity,” said Otunbayeva, a close ally of Atambeyev.

Casting his vote, Atambayev said Kyrgyzstan had rejected the model of authoritarian presidential leadership that marks every other ex-Soviet Central Asian state and needed a “free, democratic country”.

OBSERVING THE POLLS

Doug Wake, first deputy director at OSCE’s Office for Democratic Insitutions and Human Rights which is observing the election, said it was clear there was “great interest” from voters in the “historically important polls”.

He praised the choice available to voters but said imperfect voter lists were a negative factor. Even Otunbayeva’s own son, Atay Sadybakasov, said he had been told he was not on the voter lists at his polling station.

The violence-hit south is only just recovering and its precarious calm could be threatened by a victory from the main Kyrgyz nationalist candidates Kachimbek Tashiyev of the Ata Zhurt party and the former speaker of parliament, Adakhan Madumarov.

Tashiyev, a former boxer, draws the bulk of his support from the divided south, and he and Madumarov have both warned of mass protests if the elections are judged to be fraudulent.

Madumarov told AFP earlier this week that in the case of fraud he would organise protest rallies. Tashiyev told reporters on Friday that “millions” would rise up if the elections were seen to be unfair.

Some polls – not always reliable in Kyrgyzstan – have shown that Atambayev has a chance of winning in the first round, while if he fails to garner more than 50 percent of the vote he would face a second-round run-off.

“I voted for Atambayev as we hope that when he becomes president Kyrgyzstan will rise up and have a better future,” said Lyudmila Perunova, 70, a pensioner.

Car worker Kerim Omarov said: “I’m voting for Tashiyev. He’s a real man and keeps his word.”

But Madumarov is seen as the stronger candidate of the two nationalists and analysts say he has shown his charisma well in televised debates, in contrast to Atambayev’s greyer demeanour.

“If Atambayev wins enough votes in the first round then victory is his. But if not, then Madumarov could overtake him in a second round,” political analyst Uran Chekirbayev told AFP.

A victory by one of the nationalists could affect the West’s relations with Kyrgyzstan, the only country in the world that hosts both US and Russian military bases, and is crucial hub for coalition operations in Afghanistan.

Polling stations opened at 08:00 am and will close at 7:00 pm (1300 GMT), with provisional results expected overnight Sunday to Monday.

Djokovic beats Nadal to win US Open

Novak Djokovic shrugged off a back scare to defeat defending champion Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (3/7), 6-1 to clinch the US Open, his third Grand Slam title of the year in an epic, brutal final.

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The world number one Serb, who had already won the Australian Open before defeating Nadal at Wimbledon, racked up his 64th win against just two losses all year.

But having been just two points from the title in the 12th game of the third set, his dreams were almost shattered when he dropped the set on a tiebreaker and needed a medical time-out on a strained back muscle.

Victory represented the top-seeded, 24-year-old’s fourth career Grand Slam trophy after making his breakthrough at the 2008 Australian Open.

Nadal, the second seed, had been hoping to collect his 11th major in his 14th Grand Slam final, but instead slumped to his sixth defeat in six meetings in 2011 against Djokovic.

The red-hot Serb who triumphed in a four-hour, 10-minute final featuring breathtaking shot-making, rock-solid defence, gruelling rallies as well as warnings for both men for taking too long between points.

Victory also allowed Djokovic, now just the sixth man to win three Grand Slams in the same year, to close in further on John McEnroe’s 1984 winning record of 82 wins against just three defeats.

Djokovic arrived on court sporting a New York fire department baseball cap, a gesture appreciated by the 23,000 crowd, just a day after the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Despite the tricky, swirling breeze, Nadal was quickly on top, breaking for a 2-0 lead before the Serb hit straight back for 2-1.

Djokovic fought off three more break points in the fourth game and the Spaniard was made to pay when impressive court coverage allowed the Serb to bury a deep forehand to break for a 3-2 advantage.

A hold and another break, aided by two drop shots which left the struggling Nadal stranded at the back of the court, had Djokovic 5-2 ahead.

The Serb comfortably wrapped up the opener in the eighth game — his six game in succession — when the second seed netted a backhand as Djokovic again closed in for a volley.

In a carbon copy of the first set, Nadal was 2-0 ahead in the next before a marathon third game, which last just over 17 minutes and two exhausting rallies of 21 and 27 shots, was claimed by Djokovic on a sixth break point.

He did it in real style, too, three times retrieving the ball from the back of the court before Nadal netted a volley.

The Spaniard was becoming increasingly irritated with his inability to sneak away from his opponent as well as constant movement in the stands.

Djokovic held comfortably before breaking a weary Nadal when the Spaniard served a third double fault after a fifth game which featured another punishing rally of 28 shots.

Nadal avoided a double break in the seventh game and his sudden, new injection of confidence pushed him to even the set at 4-4.

But it was another brief respite as back came the Serb with his sixth break of the final for 5-4 which was converted into a two-set lead when Nadal was made to look uncharacteristically heavy-footed as he fruitlessly tried to chase down a blistering Djokovic forehand winner.

In a rollercoaster third set, Djokovic broke for 2-1, Nadal hit back for 2-2, the Serb broke again for 3-2 before Nadal levelled again for 3-3.

Another lengthy rally, this time 31 shots, punctuated the eighth game where Djokovic saved a break point.

The Serb then nipped to 6-5 on his 20th break point of the final and was just two points from the title at 30-30 when Nadal hit back to take the set to the tiebreaker through which he cruised 7/3.

Djokovic then summoned the trainer for treatment on his back strain, but incredibly still managed to break for 2-0 and then 5-1 as Nadal’s spirit suddenly wilted under a sustained barrage.

A razor-sharp backhand set-up match point and the title was his with a sweeping, killer forehand.

Hurricane batters Bahamas

but largely spared the capital Nassau as it tore over the sprawling archipelago on its way toward the US east coast.

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There were no reports of deaths in the Bahamas from the category three hurricane, but some small settlements reported up to 90 percent of their homes damaged.

Irene is forecast to continue moving over the northwestern Bahamas before heading north toward the United States, where it has sent thousands of holiday-makers fleeing and threatens up to 65 million people from the Carolinas to New England.

It would be the strongest to strike the east coast in seven years.

NEW YORKERS BRACE THEMSELVES

New Yorkers prepared Thursday for potential evacuation from Hurricane Irene, which was on track to become the first hurricane in the Big Apple for a generation.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg told residents in low-lying neighborhoods to prepare immediately to escape what could be massive flooding when the storm whips through on Sunday.

“If you have a car and live in a low lying area, park it on a hill,” he told a televised press conference. “Move stuff upstairs.”

City services, including the transportation department, were already moving equipment out of potential flood areas and police were deploying boats around the city, Bloomberg said.

In the worst case, some “relatively small” areas in the city of more than eight million people will be asked — or required — to evacuate.

The city can “suggest people move. Another thing is the mayor apparently has the power to issue an executive order and force people to move,” Bloomberg said.

New York hasn’t faced a hurricane for a quarter of a century and its complex maze of underground trains, airports, busy road traffic and densely packed waterside communities could make it especially vulnerable.

Forecasters say the fate of New York, as well as other big cities in the hurricane’s sights, like Philadelphia, depends on the exact path that Irene takes.

If the system tracks a little more out to sea, that may save the cities a pasting, but if Irene’s eye homes in on the coastline, famous places like the New Jersey gambling resort of Atlantic City and the Big Apple itself could be in trouble.

Bloomberg reassured residents that for now there was no fear of damage to Manhattan’s skyscrapers, which already took a shaking this week from a rare earthquake.

The biggest potential danger will come from flooding and falling trees when the rain pours into ground already soaked by weeks of wet weather.

“Big buildings are designed to withstand enormous winds,” Bloomberg said. “There’s no reason for you to leave a big building.”

Rather, the mayor said, there is likely to be damage in “very old, rather low rise wooden buildings, brick buildings.”

“You’re going to see small bricks come down,” he said.

He said that shelters were being organized for people forced to leave their homes, but that the best solution was to find friends or relatives.

“If you live in one of these areas, spend a bit of time today on precautions and see if that long lost cousin is willing to put you up overnight,” he quipped.

Among the other unknowns for now is whether the weather will affect outdoor events in New York, including the US Open at Flushing Meadows, Bloomberg said.

Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said New York had not suffered a direct hit from a hurricane since Gloria in September 1985, which hit Long Island as a category one storm causing widespread damage.

“This is different, because it is slow-moving, meaning the impacts could be over a longer period and over a wider area,” Feltgen said.

“Cities that could be directly impacted include Washington DC, Baltimore, New York City and Boston. They face a very big threat.”

‘Little hope’ for Philippine quake missing

Two days after a 6.

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7 magnitude quake flattened homes, destroyed bridges and triggered deadly landslides in the central island of Negros, rescuers had yet to find anyone alive among at least 92 people reported missing.

“Rescue teams have so far not seen or heard any signs of life underneath,” Ernesto Reyes, mayor of the city of Guihulngan on Negros island where 29 people from a small mountain community were believed buried by a landslide, told AFP.

“None of our missing have so far been retrieved.”

At least 48 people were confirmed to have died in Negros, with another 92 missing, regional military commander Colonel Francisco Patrimonio said on Tuesday.

In Manila, the national government’s disaster office said on Wednesday its death toll was 22, with 71 missing, but acknowledged it had not yet been able to verify reports from authorities in Negros.

Reyes said the mountain community in Guihulngan was buried under about 10 metres (30 feet) of debris, with rescue efforts painfully slow because people had only picks, shovels and their bare hands to claw through the dirt.

Roads and bridges to Guihulngan, a coastal city of about 100,000 flanked by mountains, were badly damaged in the quake, meaning earth movers and supplies for survivors could not be quickly deployed to the area, he said.

“Our immediate concern now is how to serve the living — we don’t have enough food, there is no electricity and water,” Reyes said.

“We are appealing for help from everyone.”

The other missing people were reported in the nearby farming town of La Libertad, where a cluster of hillside homes were also crushed by a landslide, according to Negros Oriental province governor Roel Degamo.

“We are in a state of shock, and all we can do now for those still missing is to pray,” Degamo said.

He said soldiers and rescuers raced against time Tuesday to find a young woman who had sent a mobile phone text message to her relatives that she was pinned down, but alive.

The dramatic search, however, ended in tears hours later.

“She was found dead and still clutching her cell phone,” Degamo told AFP, declining to give further details about the victim in deference to her grieving family.

Civil Defense Office chief Benito Ramos said five military battalions, or about 2,000 troops, had been deployed to the devastated zones and were helping local rescue units.

“We are racing against time, and hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe some of them might still be alive,” he said.

However, he said the military had not yet been able to get heavy equipment into the landslide-devastated communities because of the damaged roads.

President Benigno Aquino was expected to fly into the disaster zone Wednesday to personally check on the search and rescue operations.

Two killed in Homs as troops tighten screws

Syrian security forces shot dead two people as they pressed their clampdown on dissidents in the central city of Homs, the capital and elsewhere, activists said, calling for mass protests.

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“There was heavy gunfire in the Al-Khalidiyeh, Baba Amr and Al-Nazhine quarters (of Homs), and two people were killed,” said Abdel Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian League for Human Rights.

Rami Abdel Rahman, of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said “shots were heard in Homs from dawn.

Most streets were deserted because of the military operations. Tanks were seen around the fortress and entrances to many neighbourhoods were closed.”

Saying security forces had “entered houses and made arrests,” he added that “the army has erected barricades in all the streets, communications have been cut in most neighbourhoods and the humanitarian situation is deplorable.”

Activists say pro-regime gunmen have killed at least 22 people in Homs since Monday, including seven mourners at a funeral.

Syria’s third-largest city, Homs has spearheaded demonstrations against Assad and his regime since protests erupted on March 15.

Fierce fighting rocked the city at the weekend, with activists reporting more than 30 people killed in clashes among Christians, Sunni Muslims and President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite community.

The army had already entered the city in May in a bid to stop rallies calling for the fall of the regime.

In Damascus, meanwhile, a wave of arrests was made in three quarters, with “searches by loyalist militants very violent,” the Observatory said.

And in the southern town of Sueida, security forces had surrounded the local offices of a union, where some 70 lawyers and militants were holed up, rights lawyer Cyrine Khoury told AFP in Nicosia.

Amid the continuing crackdown, activists called for more protests countrywide after the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday, following a pattern that has become standard in many parts of the Arab world since popular uprisings toppled the veteran rulers of Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year.

Using the Facebook site Syrian Revolution 2011, one of the motors of the revolt against Assad’s autocratic rule, the activists said Friday’s protests would be in support of the residents of Homs.

It appealed for a mass turnout to honour “the grandsons of Khalid and for national unity.”

Khalid ibn al-Walid, a companion of the Prophet Mohammed known for his courage and military prowess, is buried in Homs.

Last Friday, more than one million people turned out across Syria — mainly in the cities of Hama and Deir Ezzor — to protest against Assad’s regime and to demand the release of hundreds of detainees seized at earlier pro-democracy rallies.

Human rights activists said at least 28 civilians were killed, including 16 in the capital Damascus and a child, when security forces opened fire to quell last week’s protests.

The activists say the government’s crackdown has left more than 1,400 civilians dead since mid-March. Thousands more have been jailed.

On assignment: United Nations

SBS Senior Correspondent Brian Thomson is at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York to cover the Palestinian bid for statehood.

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VIDEO September 24 – Abbas applies for membership

On Friday the 23rd, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally handed over his application for full membership of the United Nations.

VIDEO September 24 – Stagnant mood in NY

There’s a depressing mood in New York, Brian reports, with Mahmoud Abbas and Benyamin Netanyahu disagreeing as ever.

VIDEO September 23- Rudd addresses UN

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has told the UN he fears for the future of the Middle East if a peace deal is not struck soon between Israel and the Palestinians.

AUDIO UPDATE: Brian reports that he’s spoken with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, who says Australia’s had an ‘encouraging’ attitude shift on Israeli-Arab relations.

He sums up Rudd’s comments at a press conference focussing on the Palestinian statehood bid.

Rudd surprises Palestinians at UN (mp3)

VIDEO September 22 – Palestinians on course for US clash

US President Barack Obama has urged his Palestinian counterpart to end his bid for full UN membership and instead seek upgraded status in the world body.

WEB-EXTRA VIDEO: September 22 – Interview with Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev

Palestinian statehood can only come as a product of Israeli-Palestinian peace, Israel’s government spokesman said.

AUDIO: Brian updates SBS from the sidelines of the Palestinian statehood bid

Palestinian statehood: update (mp3)

VIDEO September 21 – Libyan leaders welcomed at UN

Interim government leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil has been welcomed at the UN, as US President Barack Obama used the occasion to warn that foreign military help will be needed for a while yet.

VIDEO September 20 – Abbas defiant over UN bid

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas says he won’t back down from his bid to seek statehood at the United Nations. He says he’s fed up with the endless delays in creating a two state solution in the Middle East.

WEB-EXTRA Sept 20 – Full interview with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malaki

VIDEO September 19 – Palestinian bid dominating UN talks

The Palestinian bid for statehood is dominating talks at the United Nations, as the General Assembly prepares to meet this week. Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad met Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak — for talks over the country’s bid for UN membership. But the Diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East is hoping to head off a potential showdown.

Follow Brian Thomson on Twitter @brianthomsonsbs

Follow Brian Thomson SBS on Facebook

Bloody clashes as Egypt tensions mount

Bloody clashes between protesters and anti-riot police that raged overnight in Cairo’s Tahrir Square erupted in new scuffles on Wednesday amid mounting frustration with Egypt’s military rulers over the pace of reform.

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The health ministry said there were 1,036 injured in the clashes. Those included 120 who were hospitalised and most of whom were later released.

By Wednesday evening calm had been restored in central Cairo as protesters made their way to Tahrir Square– the epicentre of protests that toppled president Hosni Mubarak– in response to calls for an open-ended sit-in to push for reforms.

Dozens were arrested in connection with the clashes, including an American and a Briton, state media reported.

A military source said the two were not among 50 protesters who had been referred to the military prosecution earlier on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns called for an “open and inclusive” process in Egypt after talks with Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling military council.

Burns said that during talks with officials, he emphasised “American support for an open and inclusive political process in Egypt, the importance of following through on their commitment to lift the emergency law before the elections, the importance of protecting freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”

Hours after bloody overnight clashes, hundreds of angry protesters gathered in front of the interior ministry headquarters in central Cairo, burning tyres and pelting police with stones, a security official said.

Egyptian stocks fell on Wednesday as the clashes raised fears of widespread unrest, with main EGX-30 index closing down 2.03 percent at 5,283.81 points.

Witnesses said the overnight disturbances were some of the most violent in months in the square, which was the focal point of protests that forced veteran president Hosni Mubarak from power in February.

Police fired tear gas and protesters threw stones, amid scenes reminiscent of demonstrations during the uprising.

Protesters accused loyalists of the ousted leader of stirring up the violence after municipal councils they dominated across the country were dissolved by court order on Tuesday.

Activists have called for an open-ended sit-in in the square. The ruling military council warned of a plot to destabilise the country.

The April 6 Movement said a protest to push for democratic reforms that was scheduled for July 8 “will begin today and a sit-in will carry on until there are clear signs that the demands are met.”

But the army called on protesters not to give in to “schemes” aimed at sowing chaos.

“The regrettable incidents in Tahrir Square… are designed to destabilise the country and pit the revolutionaries against the police,” the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said.

The clashes “have no reason behind them except to destabilise Egypt’s security and stability in accordance with a carefully thought out and organised scheme,” the council said.

The interior ministry blamed families of victims killed in the uprising saying some of them stormed a theatre where a memorial service was being held for those who died, which led to clashes with security.

But activists said police beat the families who had been barred from joining the service prompting activists back to the streets.

Nearly 850 people were killed during the popular revolt that brought an end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Witnesses told AFP that buses unloaded young men armed with sticks and knives, and accused loyalists of the old regime of stirring up the trouble.

After protests erupted against Mubarak’s rule on January 25, the authorities deploying hired thugs in a bid to quell the unrest.

Tuesday’s clashes broke out just hours after a Cairo court ordered the dissolution of municipal councils across the country, all of which were dominated by members of Mubarak’s now disbanded National Democratic Party.

“I don’t think the timing of these clashes is a coincidence,” one witness told satellite channel ON TV.

“It came just after the dissolution of the local councils, a decision which I’m sure will make many people (from the old regime) very angry,” the witness in Tahrir Square said.

Protesters who first took to the streets to demand the overthrow of Mubarak, have begun to shift their anger to the ruling military council, accusing it of using Mubarak-era tactics to stifle dissent.