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Egyptian protesters struggle to throw off army rule

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1 of 23. A protester throws a tear gas canister, which was earlier thrown by riot police during clashes along a road which leads to the Interior Ministry, near Tahrir Square in Cairo November 22, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egypt street battles enter fourth day (01:17)

By Tamim Elyan and Tom Perry

CAIRO | Tue Nov 22, 2011 9:59am EST

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptians frustrated with military rule battled police in the streets again on Tuesday as the generals scrambled to cope with the cabinet's proffered resignation after bloodshed that has jolted plans for Egypt's first free election in decades.

In a stinging verdict on nine months of army control, London-based rights group Amnesty International accused the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of brutality sometimes exceeding that of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Thousands of people defied tear gas wafting across Cairo's Tahrir Square, the hub of protests swelling since Friday into the gravest challenge yet to the generals who replaced Mubarak and who seem reluctant to relinquish their power and privilege.

Protesters in Tahrir carried an open coffin containing the white-shrouded body of one of the 36 people killed so far.

The army council, headed by a 76-year-old field marshal who served as Mubarak's defense minister for two decades, held talks with politicians on the crisis, in which at least 36 people have been killed and more than 1,250 wounded, medical officials say.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi would address the nation later in the day, state television said.

The United States, which gives Egypt's military $1.3 billion a year in aid, has called for restraint on all sides and urged Egypt to proceed with elections due to start on Monday despite the violence, a stance broadly echoed by many European leaders.

Protesters waving flags and singing skirmished with security forces in and around Tahrir Square, where banners read "Save Egypt from thieves and the military." As pungent clouds of tear gas set off stampedes, activists chanted "Stay, stay, stay."

Youth groups have called for a mass turnout later in the day to press demands for the military to give way to civilian rule now, rather than according to its own ponderous timetable, which could keep it in power until late 2012 or early 2013.


"Come to Tahrir, tomorrow we will overthrow the field marshal!" youthful protesters chanted, referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the army commander.

Tantawi and his colleagues will not formally accept the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's government until they have agreed on a new premier, an army source said.

It was not clear if the army would try to replace the whole cabinet -- a tough challenge with polling only days away -- or just ditch the unpopular interior and information ministers.

The army council has vowed to proceed with the parliamentary election due to start on Monday, but the bloody chaos in the heart of Cairo and elsewhere has thrown plans into disarray.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which anticipates a strong showing in the election, was among five parties at the crisis talks with the military council. Three presidential candidates were also there, but a fourth, Mohamed ElBaradei, stayed away.

"Elections must be held on time and we will push for a specific timetable for the transitional period," Saad el-Katatni, secretary-general of the Brotherhood's newly formed Freedom and Justice Party, told Reuters by telephone.

Presidential candidate Amr Moussa echoed the call for the election to go ahead, but said a presidential vote should take place no more than six months after the lengthy process of polling for both houses of parliament is completed in March.

Under the army's plans, parliament would name a constituent assembly to draw up a constitution within six months that would then go to a referendum. Only after that would a new president be elected to take back the powers of the military council.

The liberal Wafd party, represented at the talks, called in a statement for a two-week delay in the start of elections.

Youthful protest groups were staying away from the meeting between politicians and generals.

"The revolutionary youth are not holding dialogue with the military council. The dialogue is going on in Tahrir square, not behind closed doors with the generals," said Khaled Mardeya, a spokesman for the January 25 Revolution Coalition.


Anger against the military council exploded this month after a cabinet proposal to set out constitutional principles that would permanently shield the army from civilian oversight.

Some foes of military rule have demanded that the generals make way immediately for a national salvation government of civilians to manage Egypt's transition to democracy.

Beyond Cairo, violence has accompanied protests in the northern city of Alexandria and Ismailiya, on the Suez Canal, but nationwide demonstrations against army rule have yet to match the vast numbers that turned out to topple Mubarak.

In Tahrir, activists sought to control access to the square. Volunteers on motorbikes ferried casualties from clashes with security forces firing tear gas near the Interior Ministry.

The mood among protesters was determined. "The real revolution begins from today,' said Taymour Abu Ezz, 58. "Nobody will leave until the military council leaves power."

Ahmad Gad, 20, a student, said: "The people feel that Hosni Mubarak is still ruling. In Tunisia they already had elections."

Holding a sign that read "Mubarak, leave," a 50-year-old English teacher named Mohammad Abdullah said: "He's still in power. He just moved his HQ from the palace to the hospital."

Mubarak, 83, on trial since July for ordering the killing of protesters, has spent months in a military hospital in Cairo.

Political uncertainty has gripped Egypt since Mubarak's fall, while sectarian clashes, labor unrest, gas pipeline sabotage and a gaping absence of tourists have paralyzed the economy and prompted a widespread yearning for stability.

Several banks in central Cairo were closed on Tuesday as a precaution against looting, the state news agency said.

Amnesty International said the military had made only empty promises to improve human rights. Military courts had tried thousands of civilians and emergency law had been extended.

Torture had continued in army custody, and there were consistent reports of security forces employing armed "thugs" to attack protesters, it added in a report.

(Additional reporting by Peter Apps in London, Marwa Awad, Omar Fahmy, Dina Zayed, Shaimaa Fayed, Tom Perry and Edmund Blair in Cairo, Abdel Rahman Youssef in Alexandria and Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Jon Boyle)

As crowds swell in Cairo, military in crisis talks

Nov 22, 2011, 9:42 AM EST

By BEN HUBBARD Associated Press


A swelling crowd of tens of thousands filled Cairo's Tahrir Square Tuesday, answering the call for a million people to turn out and intensify pressure on Egypt's military leaders to hand over power to a civilian government. The ruling military council held crisis talks with political parties across the spectrum to try to defuse growing cries for a "second revolution."

The military head of state, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was expected to address the nation as protests in Cairo and other major cities carried on for a fourth day. Security forces stayed out of Tahrir itself to lower the temperature. But there were clashes on side streets leading to the square - the epicenter of the uprising that ousted longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in February.

The new wave of protests and violence around the country that began on Saturday has left 29 dead and has thrown Egypt's politics into chaos less than a week before landmark parliamentary elections were to begin.

"If the elections don't happen, there could be a clash between the army and the people. That's what we're afraid of," said protester Mustafa Abdel-Hamid. He said he wanted a clear timetable for the transfer of power.

"The army is making the same mistake as Mubarak. They hear the demands but respond when it's too late," said Abdel-Hamid, a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood who came to Tahrir even though his movement has not endorsed the protests over the past four days.

About 30,000 people were in Tahrir by late afternoon and the crowd was growing steadily - the numbers typically peak at night after everyone gets off work. The atmosphere was reminiscent of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak, with jubilation over the large turnout mixed with the seething anger directed at the military.

The crowds carried an open wooden coffin with a body of a slain protester wrapped in white and held a funeral in the middle of the square.

A stuffed military uniform was hung from a central light pole with a cardboard sign on its neck saying "Execute the field marshal," a reference to Tantawi, Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years. People cheered when the effigy was hung and state television showed some hitting it with sticks.

Men in the square opened a corridor in the middle of the crowds and formed a human chain to keep it open, giving easy access to motorcycles and ambulances ferrying the wounded to several field hospitals in the square.

Further confusing the political situation, the military-backed civilian government on Monday submitted a mass resignation in response to the turmoil.

In a sign it was struggling over how to respond to the fast-changing events, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - the military body that rules the country - still had not responded to the resignation offer by Tuesday. The council's generals met Tuesday with leaders of all the various political factions, apparently trying to find a replacement government.

But the military has been backed into a difficult corner. Protesters are demanding it surrender the reins of power - or at least set a firm date in the very near future for doing so soon. Without that, few civilian political leaders are likely to join a new government for fear of being tainted as facades for the generals, as many consider the current Cabinet.

The office of leading pro-reform activist Mohamad ElBaradei said the Nobel Peace Laureate did not attend the crisis meeting but was in touch with the military. ElBaradei prefers to continue to act as the link between the military council and the protesters until the crisis is resolved, his office said.

ElBaradei's name has been mentioned by protesters as a suitable replacement for Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who has come under intense criticism for the perceived inefficiency of his civilian government and for being beholden to the ruling generals.

Sharaf pleaded for calm to allow the elections to go ahead on schedule.

"Please calm things down. ... Egypt must come first and it is important that we protect it at this point," he told reporters. He declined to answer a question on whether the military accepted his Cabinet's resignation.

The political uncertainty and prospect of continued violence dealt a punishing blow to an already battered economy.

Egypt's benchmark index plunged more than 5 percent, the third straight day of declines. Banks closed early and many workplaces sent employees home ahead of schedule for fear of a deterioration in security.

Several main roads were closed to traffic, adding to Cairo's already congested streets.

Clashes between protesters and police and soldiers continued on streets leading to Tahrir and near the Interior Minister, which is in charge of police. The police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and the protesters responded with rocks and firebombs.

The army set up barricades on streets leading to Interior Ministry and soldiers stood behind them. Riot police were in front in lines, and youth approached and throw stones. They fired back with tear gas.

Three American students at the American University of Cairo, which sits on Tahrir Square, were arrested outside the university's campus Monday night, the AUC said.

University spokeswoman Rehab Saad told The Associated Press the three are on a study abroad program and the university is in touch with their families and the U.S. Embassy over the matter.

An Egyptian Interior Ministry official said the three were arrested while on the roof of one of the university's buildings throwing firebombs at security forces who were fighting protesters in Tahrir Square.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no authorization to speak to the media.

State television showed brief footage of the three students, males who appeared to be in their early 20s.


Associated Press reporter Aya Batrawy contributed to this report from Cairo

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