Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Questions over type of gas used against Egypt demonstrators remain unanswered

Every Egyptian who was in the streets during Egypt’s January uprising, it seems, insists the gas used against demonstrators over the past five days is much stronger than what was used in January.

There are rumors that Egyptian Central Security Forces are not using CS gas, known as ‘tear gas’ and commonly used to disperse demonstrations, but the more debilitating CR gas. One difference in the substances is that while water dilutes CS gas, it exacerbates the effects of CR gas.

Some have claimed that there are nerve agents in the gases used against demonstrators in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which connects Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square to the Ministry of Interior in downtown Cairo.

Even Mohamed el-Baradei, a popular presidential hopeful and former director of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, has suggested that the gas used by riot police against demonstrators isn’t just tear gas.

“Tear gas with nerve agents and live ammunition are being used against civilians,” Baradei said on his official Twitter account on Tuesday. “A massacre is taking place.”

According to Ministry of Health figures, at least 35 people have been killed since clashes broke out between demonstrators and CSF on Saturday morning. Thousands have been injured.

Medics on the scene say the symptoms they have seen over the past five days are completely different from those they saw during demonstrations in January.

One medic told me today that the chest pain, convulsions and seizures caused by the gas during the past weel were not seen at all in January.

Many consider this proof that a different gas is being used.

However, there is another factor: the vast majority of the gas used in January was expired. Most canisters listed a manufacture date of 1999 with a five-year shelf life. The majority of the canisters seen over the past five days - either personally or in photos - were manufactured in August 2010 and consequently are not expired.

“It’s possible,” one medic told me when asked if the new symptoms could simply be from non-expired tear gas. “We won’t know until it’s tested in the lab.”

Two medics today told me that Human Rights Watch and other international NGOs have taken samples of the gases and canisters to determine what they are.

Many gas canisters are marked ‘RIOT CS SMOKE,’ but many more bear no markings whatsoever.

Another medic said samples analyzed in the pharmacy revealed minute traces of cyanide, an extremely deadly poison.

No other sources have confirmed or denied this, and me was not given access to the report.

The Egyptian Ministry of Health says it is also analyzing samples and will reveal the full results without holding anything back.

Some, however, are skeptical.

“We can’t trust what the Ministry of Health says,” one medic in Tahrir Square told me. “They won’t tell us the truth.”

The names of the medics who spoke to me have been withheld for their safety.

This post was initially published at Youm7 English Edition (offline since Jan 2012).

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