CAIRO - 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.
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 Omar, the military appeared to be trying to distance itself from the allegations of covering up abuse.
The spokesman said a soldier shot and killed Omar 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 President Mohammed Morsi, the military was accused of using violence against protesters, including driving over protesters with armored vehicles. But it has never apologized or admitted abuses.
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 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 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 said they mistakenly killed a street vendor but didn't identify him as a child, and there was no record of the case in hospitals, according to activists who compile data from visits to hospitals, morgues and police stations.