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Egyptian protesters, who defied an army bid to clear them from Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, have demanded the military pass power to civilians and put former President Hosni Mubarak on trial.
The army, which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak was forced out of office on February 11, has become a growing target for a hardcore section of protesters, who say its leadership is colluding with remnants of Mubarak’s network and thwarting calls for a deeper purge.
Dismissing this, the army says it is guarding against any attempt by former officials to undermine the reform movement.
Medical sources said two men died of gunshot wounds after the army moved to clear Tahrir during the curfew from 2 am to 5 am. Troops and police used tasers and batons. The army said it had only fired blanks and that its operation caused no deaths.
“The military council is part and parcel of the corrupt regime. It is made up of heads of the army that have benefited from Mubarak and his 30 years of robbing the Egyptian people,” said Abdullah Ahmed, 45, a protester in Tahrir.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians packed into Tahrir yesterday for one of the biggest protests since Mubarak was ousted. After a calm demonstration in the day, the army’s attempts to clear the square met opposition from protesters.
“Thank God, we resisted them (the army), and are still here,” said one protester in Tahrir, which was the epicentre of demonstrations that pushed Mubarak out.
Hundreds were still in Tahrir by early on Saturday morning. Those numbers rose to more than 2,000 later in the day.” Why is the army beating us? Why is the army firing at us?” protesters chanted overnight when the army moved in, a witness reported.
Some protesters want the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to hand power to a civilian council and have called for the resignation of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the army council. He has stayed on as defence minister after serving for two decades in that post under Mubarak.
“Either Field Marshal Tantawi puts these people — Mubarak, Gamal (his son), and the others — on trial, or he leaves his post and lets someone else do it. The slowness of the process makes people suspicious the army (leadership) might be implicated,” said Ashraf Abdel-Aziz, 36, a shop owner.
In scenes reminiscent of the height of protests against Mubarak, three burned out army vehicles were left in the square. Some protesters, angry at the army’s tactics, hurled rocks at the smouldering hulk of one of the army trucks.
“The army is in a tough position. What happened yesterday was a result of the army’s mismanagement on steering the revolution forward, but not complicity with the old Mubarak regime,” said Hasan Nafaa, a political science professor who was active in mobilizing the protest movement.
“The army is trying to strike a balance between carrying out reforms, purging the old system and maintaining economic and political stability.
It knows well that many key people from Mubarak’s era control the economy and have deep roots in society. It is, therefore, taking measured steps,” Nafaa said.