Protesters pack Cairo square, pile pressure on army

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 08, 2011 12:02 PM
Protesters pack Cairo square, pile pressure on army

By Shaimaa Fayed and Dina Zayed

CAIRO (Reuters) - Protesters packed Cairo's Tahrir Square Friday, piling pressure on the ruling military council to meet demands including the prosecution of Hosni Mubarak in one of the biggest demonstrations since he was ousted.

By early afternoon, the protest had swollen to more than 100,000. Thousands waved red, white and black Egyptian flags in scenes reminiscent of the height of the protests that toppled Mubarak and helped ignite revolts in other Arab countries.

"Oh Field Marshal, we've been very patient!" chanted some of the protesters, gathered in the square that was the hub of protests that toppled Mubarak from the presidency and left the army, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, in charge.

"Tantawi, Tantawi get your act together or do you want a pool of blood?" chanted some of the protesters.

The military has enjoyed broad support since it took control of the country on February 11 but frustrations have grown over the pace of reform. Attention is now focused on the perceived tardiness of legal steps against Mubarak and his entourage.

Mubarak and his family have been living in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since he left Cairo on February 11.

The public prosecutor, who has filed charges against some but not all of the Mubarak-era officials, was also the focus of anger during a demonstration which one activist group declared "The Friday of Purification and Accountability."

A military helicopter hovered over the city center as protesters poured into the square after Friday prayers to support demands including the removal of remaining Mubarak-era officials, such as the powerful provincial governors.

Banners included economic demands, such as the imposition of minimum and maximum wages. "The revolution is continuing until democracy is achieved," read one banner.

"It's a strong message that the revolution is not over yet and is still going on and will not quieten down before its goals are realized," said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science and a prominent figure in the reform movement.

Street action remained "the real guarantee to the success of the revolution," coalition of youth activists said in a statement. "There has to be continued pressure for the quick and effective realization of the demands of the revolution," it said.

"Oh Field Marshal, oh Field Marshal, we are staying in Tahrir," read one of the banners directed at Tantawi, who served as defense minister in Mubarak's administration from 1991 until he was ousted from the presidency.

The military has scheduled a parliamentary election for September. It has said a presidential election will be held in either October or November, until when the army will hold presidential powers.

At one point, eight young men in military uniform appeared on stage, calling for Tantawi's removal. It was not possible to verify whether they were serving in the military.

"The people want the Field Marshal to fall," one shouted over loudspeakers. Some in the crowd applauded and repeated the refrain.

Others declared them imposters seeking to create trouble between the army and the reform movement and urged them to get off the stage.

"ENOUGH COLLUSION"

"We are calling on the Field Marshal to meet the demands of the people," said Ibrahim Ahmed, a 20-year old student. "Enough collusion in not carrying out prosecutions," he said.

The interim government installed by the military council has set up a new committee to uncover corruption from Mubarak's 30-year rule. The illicit gains panel is set to question Gamal Mubarak, the president's son, next week.

"If Mubarak is not prosecuted, we will go to Sharm el-Sheikh," read another banner held aloft by the protesters.

The military has said the 82-year-old president, himself a former military officer, is banned from leaving the country.

The campaign against Mubarak-era figures has resulted in the arrest of once untouchable figures including the former interior minister and other ministers who held economic portfolios and are accused of corruption.

Zakaria Azmi, a leading Mubarak aide, was the latest high-profile figure to be arrested. He was detained Thursday on accusations of illegal gains. Reformists questioned why it had taken so long.

"There is a feeling that the military council faces many restrictions," Nafaa, the political science professor, said.

"The aim of the protest isn't to criticize or revolt, but to express a sense of frustration because of the tardiness in bringing to trial those responsible for corruption," he said.

(Additional reporting by Isabel Coles; Writing by Tom Perry and Editing by Samia Nakhoul)