Egypt protesters defy call to leave Cairo square
Cairo, April 11, 2011
A few hundred protesters defied an army demand to quit Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, vowing to stay until Egypt's ruling military council heeds their demand for civilian rule and a deeper purge of corrupt officials.
The mostly young demonstrators, some of them unemployed, have blocked roads to Tahrir with barbed wire since Friday, when hundreds of thousands massed for one of the biggest protests since president Hosni Mubarak was ousted on Feb. 11.
The army had announced the square would be cleared but was keeping its distance since a failed attempt to remove the remaining protesters on Friday night.
Rights campaigners accused the military of using excessive force. Medical sources said 13 men were wounded by gunfire and two had died in the weekend violence.
There was little to suggest the army was preparing to take back control of the sprawling square on Monday morning.
At the square, the focus of the 18-day revolt that ended Mubarak's three-decade rule, protesters stood holding Egyptian flags. Street vendors cooked sweet potatoes on wooden trolleys and workers in suits strolled through on their way to offices.
The site was strewn with piles of garbage and the shells of army trucks torched during the latest protests.
"The challenge is keeping the square occupied with protesters from now till Friday," said Ismail Ahmed, a protester and activist. "Opposition forces have said they will rally in Tahrir this Friday, so we are not worried."
The continued occupation of Tahrir, a major thoroughfare, is irritating some in the traffic-choked city.
"I passed by the square and all I saw were unemployed youths bumming around," said Ali Abdullah, owner of a shop near Tahrir. He called the demonstrators "a bunch of slackers with nothing to do but cause trouble".
About 20 military police approached one entrance to the square and demanded the protesters leave.
Their call went unheeded. The protesters said their numbers would grow throughout the day as activists encourage students at university campuses to join them in the square.
"We expect thugs to slip into the square and break up our ranks. So we must be vigilant," said protester Mohamed Fahmy.
A coalition of nine Egyptian human rights groups condemned what it called the military's use of live ammunition against protesters in Tahrir at the weekend, describing the events as "a dangerous precedent" that requires an immediate investigation.
The army, which has enjoyed broad popular support since it took power and promised free and fair elections, said it did not fire live ammunition.
It says the latest protests were caused by elements "that backed the counter-revolution", an apparent reference to Mubarak loyalists.
Some Egyptians called for the Tahrir protest to stop, saying it was obstructing normal life and damaging the economy.
"Those remaining in Tahrir are not protesting for Egypt's sake. They have nothing to do and are putting on a show," said Sawosan Mahmoud, a 45-year-old mother of three who lives near the square. "Their stubbornness is harming the country."
Others said the protest seemed to have lost momentum since Sunday when Egypt's public prosecutor summoned Mubarak as part of investigations into the killing of protesters during the uprising and the embezzlement of public funds.
Many of the demonstrators who thronged Tahrir on Friday were demanding that Mubarak stand trial for corruption. Speaking for the first time since being overthrown, Mubarak said on Sunday the allegations against him were "lies". – Reuters