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Egyptian protesters threw rocks and firebombs at military police as another waves a national flag during clashes near Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square, Egypt Friday, Dec. 16, 2011.

AP/Amr Hafez/AP/Amr Hafez

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is sending a strong rebuke to Egypt's governing military, saying he is "horrified" at the treatment of unarmed protesters by the country's security forces.



In a letter addressed to Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamel Amr, Mr. Baird refers to television footage aired recently that showed soldiers beating, dragging and partially stripping a woman in the street. He writes that those images were "just some of the abhorrent acts caught on camera."



A copy of the letter's text was obtained by The Globe and Mail on Thursday.

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It urges the government to take "all actions necessary" to stop the violence and ensure security forces are used to protect, not hurt, civilians. "I am horrified by the use of brute force in Tahrir Square from what appear to be Egyptian security forces personnel," he wrote.



The Egyptian Embassy in Ottawa could not immediately be reached to comment on the letter's contents.



The military took control in Egypt after long-time leader Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down by protesters 10 months ago. Popular sentiment among protesters has since turned against the interim government, which activists have accused of mismanagement and abuse.



A violent military crackdown near Tahrir Square that killed 17 people this week brought renewed attention to the conflict, and sparked international criticism of the military regime.



"Canada has supported – and will continue to support – those who respect freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law," Mr. Baird wrote. "This includes the right to protest peacefully in Egypt."



Jabeur Fathally, who teaches international law at the University of Ottawa and has expertise in the Middle East, said the language Mr. Baird uses in the letter is significant.



"I think the Canadian government is practising what we call 'realpolitik' now. They think the military council has no chance to rule the country in Egypt, so they decided to take a stronger position."

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Mr. Baird's letter added that he is "deeply concerned" at an Egyptian military court decision to sentence Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil to two years in prison on what he called the "bogus charges of 'insulting the military.'" He said the Canadian government is calling for Mr. Nabil's immediate release.

With a report from the Associated Press

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