CAIRO: Egyptians responding to a call for a mass rally began flowing onto Cairo’s central Tahrir Square on Tuesday as protests demanding the country’s military rulers to step down entered a fourth day despite a crackdown by police that has killed at least 29 people.
Activists are hoping to increase the number of protesters in the square, which was the epicenter of the revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak in mid-February, with a demonstration to bolster popular support for a “second revolution.”
Violence also continued, with black-clad security forces backed by military troops firing volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets to block protesters, who responded by hurling stones and fire bombs. The two sides have been engaged in intense clashes since the unrest began on Saturday.
Egypt’s state-TV reported that three people were killed overnight in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, east of Cairo, raising the overall death toll from the protests to 29.
Hundreds of protesters arrived early Tuesday to join several thousand who have been camping on Tahrir Square, sleeping in tents or on the grass rolled up in blankets despite efforts by police to clear the area. The crowds hoisted a giant Egyptian flag and chanted slogans demanding the generals immediately step down in favor of a presidential civilian council.
One man held a sign reading “ministry of thuggery” with photos of Mubarak, the senior military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and others. A few hundred young men nearby chanted “say it, don’t fear, the council must go” and “the people want to execute the field marshal.”
The rally, dubbed “Egypt’s Salvation,” came a day after the civilian Cabinet of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf submitted its resignation to the military council, a move that had been widely expected given the government’s perceived inefficiency and its almost complete subordination to the generals. The ruling military council gave no word if the offer had been accepted, but regardless, it failed to satisfy the protesters.
“That was a game, like playing the joker in a game of cards. We want the military council to resign,” said 60-year-old protester Mustafa Mursi, who wore a pair of goggles on his forehead with a gas mask and a laminated picture of his slain son around his neck.
Mursi, who has been at the square since the latest protests began on Saturday, said that his son Mohammed was shot in head on Jan. 28 during clashes with security forces in the earlier uprising.
“I’ll stay until military rule ends and there is civilian rule,” he said.
The clashes came few days before the country’s first parliamentary elections since Mubarak was forced to step down. Fears were high that the turmoil would disrupt elections due to begin on Nov. 28.
Amnesty International harshly criticized the military rulers in a new report, saying they have “completely failed to live up their promises to Egyptians to improve human rights.”
The London-based group documented steps by the military that have fallen short of increasing human rights and in some cases have made matters worse than under Mubarak.
“The euphoria of the uprising has been replaced by fears that one repressive rule has simply been replaced with another,” according to the report, issued early Tuesday.
The report called for repeal of the Mubarak-era “emergency laws,” expanded to cover “thuggery” and criticizing the military. It said the army has placed arbitrary restrictions on media and other outlets.
Egyptian security forces have continued to use torture against demonstrators, the report said, and some 12,000 civilians have been tried in military trials, which it called “unfair.”
A military spokesman, meanwhile, told The Associated Press that the military has set up barbed wire and barricades around the security headquarters to prevent protesters from storming the building. “We are only here to protect the interior ministry,” he said.
The spokesman, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to release the information, also said army officers and soldiers had been forbidden to enter Tahrir Square.
The unrest had immediate impact of Egypt’s benchmark stock index which plunged for a third day. The EGX30 index fell by over 3 percent within minutes of the market’s opening on Tuesday, building on the previous day’s 4 percent decline.