Egypt's military made a rare admission and apology on Thursday for mistakenly shooting and killing a 12-year-old street vendor in Cairo, a day after activists accused the government of trying to cover up the death.
The boy, Omar Salah, was killed on Feb.3 near the U.S. Embassy and Tahrir Square during clashes in the area. Activists discovered his death coincidentally as they were searching for missing protesters in hospitals.
"The Armed Forces apologizes for the mistaken killing of the child and pledges to take all legal measures against the culprit," military spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali said on his official Facebook page.
Opposition activists on Wednesday accused officials of trying to cover up abuses. There are also broader accusations of intensifying police abuse harkening back to the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak. that
Activists in Egypt's second largest city, Alexandria, raised a new allegation on Thursday that a detainee among more than 30 rounded up following a protest last week died in detention because he was denied medical treatment. The Interior Ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
In the case of the child killed, the military appeared to be trying to distance itself from the allegations of covering up abuse.
The spokesman said a soldier had shot and killed Salah while inspecting his weapon, denying it was during clashes. He also denied claims there was an attempt to cover up the death, saying the military reported it to civilian authorities.
During its 17-month rule of Egypt before the election of Morsi, the military was accused of using violence against protesters, including in one incident driving over protesters with armored vehicles. But it has never apologized or admitted abuses. Since Morsi came to power, the military retreated from the streets.
In another case, the state's chief forensic doctor appeared to backtrack from earlier statements denying that a detained activist died of torture at the hands of security forces — remarks that had also sparked opposition accusations of attempts to whitewash abuse.
The statements by the doctor and the military appeared designed to ease public anger at a time of heightened tension between the government of President Mohammed Morsi and its opponents.
Opposition activists on Wednesday accused authorities of trying to conceal the identity and age of the child killed.
At the time of his death, security officials had said they mistakenly killed a street vendor but didn't identify him as a child and there was no record of the case in the hospital, according to activists who compile data from visits to hospitals, morgues and police stations.
Activists are planning a popular funeral for Salah on Friday, and several marches against Morsi. The president's supporters plan a rally to denounce the recent violence, raising the possibility of more violent clashes.
In the case of the dead activist, 28-year-old Mohamed el-Gindy disappeared after a protest and turned up in a hospital in a coma with bruises and internal bleeding. His colleagues charged he was detained and tortured by security forces, an accusation security officials denied. He died on Feb.4.
An official forensic report on Wednesday said el-Gindy died from bruises sustained in a car accident, enraging the opposition.
The Popular Current group, to which el-Gindy belonged, dismissed the report as political manipulation to cover up the real causes of death and promised to challenge it legally. It said it had a rival medical report proving torture.
But on Thursday, the chief forensic doctor Ihsan Gorgy appeared on the widely watched Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr TV, and signaled that he was trying to calm the furor. He said bruises on el-Gindy's body could indicate he was hit by a car or collided with some other hard object.
"It could be an accident. It could be beating and then an accident."
Activists charge that police, the main target of discontent in the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power, continue to enjoy impunity for past human rights violations. As a result, they say, violations continue.
Many accuse Morsi of looking the other when it comes to police abuse because he needs them to curb the protests and protect his office.
In the latest allegation of a detainee dying from abuse, Mahienour el-Masry, a local activist who is following the case, said 35-year-old Hassan Shaaban was picked up by police near a protest area last week but was continuously denied his diabetes and heart medication.
He was reported dead Thursday, a day after prosecutors agreed to give him medical attention, el-Masry said.
Violent clashes between protesters and security forces that began around the second anniversary of Egypt's uprising on Jan. 25 left nearly 70 civilians killed. Violence has recently tapered off but the heavy-handed crackdown on protesters, arbitrary detentions including children, and torture claims have fueled accusations that old practices of the Mubarak-era die hard.
Morsi accuses his opponents of trying to topple a democratically elected government and bringing violence to the streets.