17 days on, protesters stay put at Tahrir Square

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CAIRO/WASHINGTON - Egyptians at Cairo’s Tahrir Square Thursday kept up their protest for the 17th day and prepared for another million-strong rally Friday as Google executive and principal protester Wael Ghonim declared that it is “no longer the time to negotiate” with the government.

Hundreds again camped overnight on the streets, within sight of the nearby parliament buildings, DPA reported. Protesters are hoping for another “one million-strong rally” Friday in Tahrir Square, after the last one Feb 2.

The protesters received a boost with Egyptian labour unions planning to hold more nationwide strikes against President Hosni Mubarak who has ruled the country since 1981.

As the stir continued in Cairo, there were also reports of protests intensifying in other parts of the country. According to an estimate, about 300 people have died nationwide in the protests that began Jan 25.

Around 20,000 factory workers stayed away from work Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported Thursday.

A judiciary panel agreed Wednesday to amend six articles of the constitution, among them putting term limits on the presidency and expanding the list of people eligible to run for top office.

But the protesters say they want Mubarak’s ouster and are unwilling to settle for anything else. One of the longest serving rulers in the Arab world, Mubarak has said that he is ready to step down at the end of his term in September, but not now.

Ahmad Salah, an Egyptian activist, said protesters are “more emboldened by the day and more determined by the day”.

“This is a growing movement, it’s not shrinking.”

The protests were started by a set of young people who networked through the internet, including Facebook. One of them, Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, is now considered to be the face of these protests that have swept through the country.

Ghonim described the huge protests against Mubarak as an “Internet revolution”.

He told CNN International Thursday: “I’ll call it Revolution 2.0.”

Ghonim, who mysteriously went missing Jan 28 and was released by the authorities Feb 7, told CNN that they had planned a revolution.

The plan, he said, was to get everyone on the street. “Number one is that we’re going to start from, you know, poor areas… our demands are going to be all about what touches people’s daily lives.”

On negotiations being carried out to quell the uprising, Ghonim said: “This is no longer the time to negotiate, unfortunately… we went on the streets on the 25th and we wanted to negotiate. We wanted to talk to our government.”

Admitting that he was “super scared” after being arrested, the IT wiz said that he was blindfolded.

He said that he has “given the complete power of attorney to my wife, on everything I own in my bank accounts, everything, because I’m ready to die….”

He said: “This president needs to step down because this is a crime. And I am telling you, I’m ready to die.”

“Do whatever you want to do. We are getting back our country. You guys have been ruining this country for 30 years. Enough. Enough. Enough.”

Serious security concerns were also raised when Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman said Al Qaeda militants and operatives from other armed organisations were among the prisoners that managed to escape from the country’s prisons last month amid the confusion caused by protests.

Suleiman said the fugitives included members of “jihadist organisations” who had not renounced their ideology or agreed to halt violence, AKI reported.

“This is a serious matter,” he told reporters. “We must use every bit of strength to bring them back to prison.”

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