CAIRO (Reuters) - Soldiers and police moved into Cairo's main square on Tuesday to end a five-day sit-in by protesters demanding civilian rule and swifter prosecution of Egypt's former president and his allies.
A Reuters photographer saw hundreds of soldiers in the middle of Tahrir Square and in military vehicles at every entrance to the normally busy thoroughfare, which the demonstrators had closed to traffic using barbed wire.
Troops with machineguns rounded up several young men and pushed them into vans. Others hauled the coils of barbed wire and makeshift barriers erected during the protest onto military trucks, while men toured the sprawling square picking up debris.
By early evening, traffic was flowing through Tahrir, a major junction and the focus of the 18-day uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak on February 11.
A youth coalition that helped organize the uprising said it had persuaded the remaining protesters to reopen Tahrir because they were doing the country no good by staying.
"We met with the (ruling) military council yesterday and discussed opening Tahrir. We agreed to end the protest and give the army a chance to proceed," said Mohamed Sukri, a member of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition.
"The military council thanks the youth of the January revolution for returning Tahrir Square to normal," it said in a statement.
Protester Mohamed Zaidan, who said he belonged to no group and was still in the square when the army arrived, gave a different account.
"We didn't agree with anyone to clear Tahrir," said the 25-year-old Ziadan.
"We were attacked by rock-throwing people who wanted to force us out and then the army came, didn't speak to us and suddenly moved in to force us out of the square."
Some Cairo residents had voiced exasperation at the Tahrir protesters, who had stayed since Friday when hundreds of thousands turned out to maintain pressure for change on Egypt's army rulers and demand that Mubarak stand trial for corruption.
The former leader said on Sunday that accusations of wrongdoing against him and his family were "lies."
The army tried to clear hundreds of protesters from the square in the early hours of Saturday, drawing criticism from rights groups who accused the military of excessive force.
(Reporting by Asmae Waguih, writing by Tom Pfeiffer)