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Coverup suspected in Egypt police beating

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 6:42 p.m.

CAIRO — The video outraged Egyptians, showing riot police strip and beat a middle-aged man and drag him across the pavement as they cracked down on protesters. The follow-up was even more startling: In his first comments afterward, the man insisted the police were just trying to help him.

Hamada Saber's initial account, given during the weekend as he lay in a police-run hospital, has raised accusations that police officials intimidated or bribed him in an attempt to cover up the incident, which was captured by Associated Press footage and widely seen on Egyptian TV and the Internet.

“He was terrified. He was scared to speak,” Saber's son, Ahmed, said on Monday, explaining his father's account. Saber recanted his story on Sunday when his family pushed him to tell the truth and acknowledged that the police beat him.

The incident has fueled an outcry that security forces, which were notorious for abuse under Hosni Mubarak, have not changed in the nearly two years since his ouster. Activists accuse Mubarak's Islamist successor, Mohamed Morsy, of cultivating the same culture of abuse as police crack down on his opponents.

The outcry was further heightened by the apparent torture-death of an activist, who colleagues said was taken by police from a Tahrir Square protest on Jan. 27 and held at a Cairo security base known as Red Mountain. Mohammed el-Gindy's body showed marks of electrical shocks on his tongue, wire marks around his neck, smashed ribs, a broken skull and a brain hemorrhage, according to a medical report.

Blatant abuses by security forces under Mubarak were one factor that fueled the 2011 revolt against his rule. The highly public nature of the new cases puts more pressure on Morsy to hold security officials responsible for any abuses.

Egypt's presidency said it is following up on the death of el-Gindy, adding that there will be “no return to violations of citizens' rights.”

The Interior Ministry denied that el-Gindy was held by police. Morsy met Monday with top police officials, but the state newspaper, Al-Ahram, said his talks did not touch on the beating of Saber or el-Gindy's death. The paper said Morsy told officers he understands they operate under “extreme pressures” during protests.

Morsy's prime minister, Hesham Kandil, indirectly warned the opposition and media not to raise public outcry against security officials. “This should not be used as a match to set fire to the nation,” he said.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim warned that if police “collapse,” Egypt will become “a militia state like some neighboring nations.”

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