Egyptians swarm to rally against military rule
CAIRO—Tens of thousands of protesters swarmed Cairo’s Tahrir Square Tuesday to demand an end to military rule, heightening tension amid deadly clashes that threaten to derail legislative polls next week.
As the protesters streamed into the iconic square waving flags and holding banners, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was locked in crisis talks with a number of political forces in a bid to defuse the crisis, state media reported.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s best-organized political force, had said it would take part in the talks but there was no indication if those driving the protests attended.
A military source who was at the talks told AFP the idea was discussed of forming a new government headed by former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, or Abdelmoneim Abul Futuh, a presidential hopeful and former member of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s longtime defense minister who is now the country’s de facto ruler, was to address the nation later Tuesday, state television said.
Those at Tahrir square indicated they would want to hear nothing less than an announcement of an end to the rule of SCAF, which took over when Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular revolt in February.
“The people want the downfall of the regime,” they shouted, echoing the Arab Spring signature chant.
According the health ministry, at least 28 people have been killed since Saturday, when the security forces first resorted to tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot in a bid to subdue the protests, with demonstrators responding by throwing stones and petrol bombs at riot police.
Hundreds have been injured in the protests that spread from Cairo to Alexandria, Ismailiya and the canal city of Suez.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the violence and called for democratic elections, as watchdog Amnesty International charged the SCAF’s record on human rights was worse than that of the Mubarak regime.
Egypt’s main stock market index closed down 4.77 percent on Tuesday after trading on the bourse had been suspended for one hour when the main EGX-30 index fell 172.82 points to touch 3,688.17 points, according to the Egyptian Exchange website.
Egypt’s military-appointed cabinet of civilian officials announced its resignation late on Monday, but state television quoted a SCAF source as saying this was rejected by the military.
The SCAF said it had asked the justice ministry to set up a committee to probe the violence, and called on “all forces and citizens to commit to (restoring) calm, and creating an atmosphere of stability with the goal of pursuing the political process.”
The Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party said earlier it would not participate in Tuesday’s protest, a decision it said stemmed from its “desire not to pull people towards fresh bloody confrontations with the parties that are seeking more tension.”
Tuesday’s mass rally to demand the army cede power was called by the political forces that spearheaded the popular uprising that forced Mubarak out of office.
In a Facebook page for the rally, the groups called for the immediate resignation of Sharaf’s cabinet and the formation of a “national salvation” government.
They also demanded a presidential election by April 2012 and a complete overhaul of the interior ministry.
The military is also coming under increasing pressure to halt the violence from abroad, with White House spokesman Jay Carney saying it was important that US ally Egypt move toward democratic elections.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland echoed the White House call for “free, fair elections,” and expressed the hope the electoral process would remain on schedule.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon called on the military council to “guarantee” civil liberties as he deplored the deaths in the clashes.
“The secretary general is deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt during the last few days, particularly in Cairo. He deplores the loss of life and the many injuries,” said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.
“The secretary general calls on the transitional authorities to guarantee the protection of human rights and civil liberties for all Egyptians, including the right to peaceful protest.”