Egyptian protesters plan march of million people

Monday, January 31, 2011

CAIRO - The massive uprising to oust Egyptian president of 30 years Hosni Mubarak were scaled up Monday with protesters, who have defied curfew and remain unfazed despite fighter jets and tanks, planning to hold a march of over a million people through the streets of Cairo Tuesday.

The plan is to have more than a million people on the streets, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

Several hundred demonstrators remained camped out in Tahrir square in central Cairo early Monday morning, defying a curfew. At least 150 people have died so far in violence linked to the unrest.

The demonstrators had been addressed Sunday by leading opposition activist and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohammed ElBaradei who promised that change would come to their country.

“What we have begun today cannot be turned back,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner told the crowd in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square through a megaphone on what he termed an “historic day”.

“We are beginning a new era in Egypt,” thundered ElBaradei.

DPA reported that ElBaradei is trying to organise the opposition, but faces some scepticism, largely owing to his many years outside the country.

The US, Egypt’s key ally, said it expected events in Egypt to lead to a “transition”, ending with democratic elections, as President Barack Obama consulted with key leaders in the region.

Gamal Nasser, a spokesperson for the largest opposition grouping, the Muslim Brotherhood, said his group was in talks with ElBaradei and other movements to form a national unity government without President Mubarak or his ruling National Democratic Party.

The Brotherhood, banned but tolerated under Mubarak, also demanded an end to the country’s draconian emergency laws that grant police wide-ranging powers.

Protesters, most not affiliated to any party or movement, poured into city centres all over Egypt, from remote areas such as Mansoura in the north to Alexandria, the second largest city, in the west.

“We will not go until Mubarak goes” was one of many anti-government chants heard in Cairo and other scenes of protests in the vast and largely poor country of 80 million people.

A simpler form of the slogan said simply “Leave” and was handwritten on placards and pieces of paper held up by demonstrators.

In the chaos, thousands of prisoners were said to have escaped detention facilities in different areas of the country and had become one of the greatest security concerns for many residents. At least four prisons in Cairo saw jailbreaks.

In the early evening Sunday military fighter jets and army helicopters flew low overhead in a show of force as the protesters chanted. Tanks were also surrounding demonstration areas, though the soldiers did not interfere with the protests.

Police, pushed from the streets Friday night after clashes with protesters, were back in parts of Cairo after dark Sunday, with the interior ministry pledging they would be fully re-deployed by morning.

Mubarak - who spent the morning visiting troops, according to state television - has so far reshuffled some top positions and vaguely pledged better economic prospects and freedoms. He later met with military and other officials over new the cabinet appointments.

Importantly, he appointed his former intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, as vice president - a post that has been vacant for nearly three decades - but many who headed to the streets said it was not enough.

The unrest has caused foreigners to flee in droves, with Western and Arab states saying they will arrange special flights to evacuate their citizens. A great crush was being reported at Cairo airport.

Mubarak Sunday said that new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq should push forward reform and anti-corruption efforts and restore confidence in the country’s economy.

In remarks carried by official media and cited by Xinhua news agency, Mubarak said Shafiq’s priority is to tame unemployment and create jobs.

“I require you to bring back confidence in our economy” and shore up the country’s subsidy provisions and the campaign against corruption, Mubarak was quoted as saying.

He also stressed the importance of taking new, effective and continuous moves to further political reform through “extensive dialogue” with all parties, including the opposition.

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