- demonstrations - Egypt - Hosni Mubarak - military - political crisis - unrest
Thousands of protesters return despite army pledges of reform
Thousands of protesters defied orders to leave Cairo's Tahrir Square on Sunday, vowing to remain until political reforms are realised despite vows from Egypt's new military rulers that the country would soon see moves toward democracy.
REUTERS - Hundreds of Egyptian soldiers shoved pro-democracy protesters aside to force a path for traffic to start flowing through central Cairo's Tahrir Square on Sunday for the first time in more than two weeks.
Protesters chanted "peacefully, peacefully" as the soldiers and military police in red berets moved in to disperse them. Scuffles broke out and some soldiers lashed out with sticks.
The military police chief told protesters to clear tents from the square and not to disrupt traffic.
"We do not want any protesters to sit in the square after today," Mohamed Ibrahim Moustafa Ali, the head of military police, told protesters and reporters as soldiers removed tents from the square.
The army has said it respects the demands of protesters, whose mass action drove Hosni Mubarak from power. It has also called on them to go home and let normal life resume.
Protests erupted on Jan. 25 and traffic stopped flowing through Tahrir after Jan. 28. The square became the epicentre of nationwide demonstrations, with many protesters camping there.
"I will not leave the square. Over my dead body. I trust the army but I don't trust those controlling the army behind the scenes," Mohamed Salah, 27, a protester who was refusing to take down his tent in the square.
Faten Hassan, another protester, said it was time to let the army do its job. "If they fail to fulfil our demands, we know the way back to the square. Egyptians know the road to any uprising they wish to hold again," she said.
The early morning violence did not last long, but the army action, backed by dozens of military police, split demonstrators who had previously controlled the square into smaller groups.
"In the square, in the square, we demand our rights in the square," some chanted as soldiers corralled the crowd.
Although Mubarak's resignation on Friday met the protesters' main demand, many said they planned to stay in the square to ensure the military council now in charge of Egypt made way for civilian rule and democracy as it had promised.
Protesters demand the abolition of emergency law that has been used to stifle dissent for three decades, the release of all political prisoners, and free and fair elections.
"The army is the backbone of Egypt. The solution is not to remove us from the square. They must respond to our demands," said a protester over loudspeakers.
Atteya Mohamed, 32, a lawyer and a member of a "people's defence committee", said the army's action was unacceptable.
"The exact tactics used by police we see the army using on protesters. We refuse this and demand our friends are released."
Protesters said soldiers had detained about 50 people since Saturday night. The army had no immediate comment.
Troops were ordered on to the streets on Jan. 28 after police fought street battles to try to contain protests but lost control. The army has taken a largely neutral role, but has detained some protesters and journalists, often briefly.
"There is no enmity between the people and armed forces ... We ask you not to attack our sons. This is not the (behaviour) of the armed forces. This is a peaceful protest," one protester said on loudspeakers. "We demand that the armed forces release all our sons that have been arrested in Tahrir."
Some passers-by felt the time for protests was over.
"Haven't they got what they want? Can someone explain to me what is left of their demands?" asked one bystander.
Jihad Laban, an accountant, said much work remained to make sure the revolution did not squander what it had gained.
"We stood by the army in their revolution," he said, referring to the 1952 coup that toppled the British-backed monarchy. "They need to stand with us in ours.
"The goal was never just to get rid of Mubarak. The system is totally corrupt and we won't go until we see some real reforms. I am going to be buried in Tahrir, I am here for my children. Egypt is too precious to walk away now."
A 38-year-old industrial worker who gave his name only as Mohamed, said he had changed his mind about going home.
"I was going to leave today, but after what the military has done, the millions will be back again. The corrupt system still stands. It has gone back to using the only thing it understands -- force. If we leave, they won't respond to our demands."