Tahrir truce holds, huge rally planned
25 November 2011, 09:22
Cairo - Egyptian protesters and police observed a truce on Thursday
after violence that has killed 39 people in five days, but said they
would intensify pressure for an end to army rule with a mass rally on
Friday in Tahrir Square backed by trade unions.
The ruling army
council again promised that parliamentary elections would start on time
next week, after offering a faster timetable for a handover to civilian
Demonstrations by thousands of Egyptians frustrated
with military rule have led to violent clashes with police in and around
Cairo's Tahrir Square, in scenes reminiscent of the popular uprising
that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February.
"The people demand the
execution of the marshal," crowds chanted, referring to army chief Field
Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak's defence minister for
In a communique, protesters called a million-man
march on "the Friday of the last chance" to back demands for an
immediate transfer to civilian rule via a national salvation government.
The Egyptian Independent Trade Union Federation called
for a workers' march to Tahrir. Another labour rights group called for a
general strike to back the protests. Labour unions played an important
role in the movement that toppled Mubarak.
The heads of two
political parties who took part in a meeting with the military council
on Tuesday said they now regretted attending and apologised to the
protesters in Tahrir.
The demonstrations appear to have polarised Egyptians, many of whom worry that unrest will prolong economic stagnation.
In fresh blows to confidence, the Egyptian pound weakened to more than
6 to the dollar for the first time since January 2005, and Standard
& Poor's cut Egypt's credit rating.
The agency cut Egypt's
long-term, foreign- and local-currency sovereign credit ratings to B+
from BB-, saying a "weak political and economic profile" had worsened
The Central Bank raised interest rates unexpectedly in what bankers was an attempt to shore up the pound.
Egypt's ruling army council said it was doing all it could to prevent
more violence. In a statement, it apologised, offered condolences and
compensation to families of the dead, and promised a swift investigation
into who was behind the unrest.
A ruling council member,
General Mamdouh Shaheen, told a news conference the parliamentary vote,
whose first stage is due to begin on Monday, would go ahead on time. "We
will not delay elections. This is the final word," he said.
Another council member, Major-General Mokhtar al-Mullah, took a swipe at
the demonstrators. "If we look at those in Tahrir, regardless of their
number, they do not represent the Egyptian people, but we must respect
their opinion," he said.
Mullah said the army hoped to form a
new government before Monday to replace Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's
cabinet, which resigned during this week's violence without giving a
Demonstrators in Tahrir said the truce had taken hold
from midnight. Cranes hauled concrete barriers, later reinforced with
barbed wire, across streets leading to the nearby Interior Ministry,
flashpoint for much of the recent violence.
Protesters linked arms in human chains to prevent further clashes with security forces guarding the Interior Ministry.
"We have created a space separating us from the police. We are standing
here to make sure no one violates it," said Mahmoud Adly, 42, part of a
human cordon four people deep.
Some demonstrators began
sweeping the square and collecting rubbish. "We want to show people we
aren't here only for clashes, we are also cleaning the place," said
Osama Moawad, 23.
The protests in Cairo and elsewhere pose the
gravest challenge to Egypt's army rulers since they took over from
Mubarak, overthrown on February 11 after an 18-day uprising.
United States and European nations, alarmed at the violence of the past
few days, have urged Egypt to proceed with what has been billed as its
first free vote in decades.
The army and the Muslim
Brotherhood, which expects to do well in the election, say it must go
ahead, but many protesters do not trust the military to oversee a clean
vote. Some scorn the Brotherhood for its focus on gaining seats in
In Tahrir, two groups were chanting against other,
one saying, "Muslim Brotherhood, we don't want you in the square," and
another responding in a unity call, "One hand, one hand."
military council originally promised to return to barracks within six
months, but then set a timetable for elections and drawing up a new
constitution that would have left it in power until late next year or
Tantawi pledged this week to hold a presidential
vote in June that could pave the way for a transfer to civilian rule,
but the demonstrators, angered by army attempts to shield itself legally
from future civilian control, are unconvinced.
of Tahrir Square announce their absolute rejection of... Tantawi's
speech, and stress they have been humiliated that the regime moved to
offer solution only after martyrs fell," the protesters' communique
Before the truce, protesters had fought running battles
with security forces around the Interior Ministry. The bloody chaos
there contrasted with normal life in streets nearby.