A banned chemical agent has reportedly been used by the Egyptian military as the brutal crackdown against tens of thousands of protesters has clouded prospects of a democratic transfer in the country.
Rashes, epileptic-type convulsions, temporary blindness and coughing up blood are among the symptoms being reported by Egyptian protesters who have fallen victim to a potentially lethal form of neuro-toxic nerve gas reportedly being deployed by security forces.
After almost a week of protests against the ruling military junta left some 41 people dead, several sources claim scores have died from gas asphyxiation, while thousands more have received medical treatment after possibly being exposed to an agent known as CR gas.
''It is some kind of neuro-toxic nerve gas,” doctor Mohamed Aden told , who usually works at the Cairo University hospitals, told the Australian daily, The Age. ''We are seeing people whose upper respiratory tract is in convulsion – we have to give them diazepam to relax the muscles to allow them to begin to breathe again.''
CR gas, which is up to 10 times more powerful than tear gas which is commonly used today, is no longer used by the United States due to its carcinogenic properties. The US military has categorized it as a combat-class chemical agent.
CR gas was used in the townships during anti-apartheid protests in South Africa in the 1980s, and Irish Republicans also claimed British security forces had used it against Republican detainees.
After a truce between the Egyptian military and demonstrators ushered in a nervous calm across the deeply shaken city on Thursday, the army which was once lauded for its role in toppling the regime of Hosni Mubarak is now widely believed to have turned against the Egyptian people.
Reacting to the increasingly militarized response of the security forces, former IAEA official and Egyptian presidential hopeful Mohammed El Baradei wrote via twitter“Tear gas with nerve agent & live ammunition being used against civilians in Tahrir. A massacre is taking place.”
Some 40 people have also been treated for ruptured eyes after being shot with rubber bullets.
With such reports of widespread brutality increasingly galvanizing protesters, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has promised to hasten the end of military rule, with a full transition to civilian government promised by June 2012.
However, with parliamentary elections scheduled to proceed on Monday, the military’s decision on Friday to appoint septuagenarian Kamal Ganzourito to lead a national salvation government has the city once again bracing for chaos on “Martyr’s Friday.”