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January 2011, Week 5

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Mon, 31 Jan 2011 21:28:22 -0500
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Middle East Egyptians gear for gigantic protest

Al Jazeera

Organisers plan "march of millions" on Tuesday to force
President Mubarak to quit and the army vows not to use
force. 31 Jan 2011 

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/01/20111311965695371.html

Protest organisers have announced an indefinite general
strike and called for a "march of a million" in the
Egyptian capital on Tuesday, the eighth day of an
uprising that has claimed at least 125 lives in clashes
between demonstrators and police.

Another million-strong march was planned in the
Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, as national
train services were cancelled in an apparent bid to
stymie protests.

The new protests will come as the hated police have
returned to the street.

But while the police's posture to be adopted in the
face of the strike and marches remains unknown, the
Egyptian army stated clearly on Monday that it would
not stop them.

Faced with the prospect of massive numbers trying to
converge on the capital, Egyptian authorities stopped
all train traffic with immediate effect on Monday
afternoon.

And state-owned national carrier EgyptAir said it was
cancelling all domestic and international flights from
3 pm (1300 GMT) to 8 am (0600 GMT) until further
notice, coinciding with a curfew in Cairo, Alexandria
and Suez.

Army promise

In a statement on Monday the army said "freedom of
expression" was guaranteed to all citizens using
peaceful means.

"To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces,
acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people,"
stress that "they have not and will not use force
against the Egyptian people," the statement.

It was the first such explicit confirmation by the army
that it would not fire at demonstrators who have taken
to the streets of Egypt and comes a day before
Tuesday's "march of millions".

[Our producer in Egypt reports on the latest
developments (audio on website)]

"The presence of the army in the streets is for your
sake and to ensure your safety and wellbeing. The armed
forces will not resort to use of force against our
great people,

"Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of
your demands and are keen to assume their
responsibility in protecting the nation and the
citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through
peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody." the army
statement said.

It urged people not to resort to acts of sabotage that
violate security and destroy public and private
property. It warned that it would not allow outlaws to
loot, attack and "terrorise citizens".

Protesters have called for a massive demonstration and
a rolling general strike on Tuesday.

The so-called April 6 Movement said it plans to have
more than one million people on the streets of the
capital Cairo.

The call came as Mubarak swore in a new cabinet in an
attempt to defuse ongoing demonstrations across the
country.

Call for talks

Omar Suleiman, Egypt's new vice president, said on
Monday that Mubarak had tasked him with opening
"immediate" dialogue with the opposition "around all
the issues concerning constitutional and legislative
reforms".

He said steps were underway to implement decisions of
the appeals court contesting results of autumn
legislative elections in certain constituencies.

However, members of the opposition in the Egyptian
capital told our correspondent they reject the offer of
dialogue.

"They say it isn't an issue of a different approach
from Mubarak, they just don't want Mubarak," he said.

"They are saying they don't want to enter dialogue with
Mubarak or Omar Suleiman, they say they've been in that
dialogue for the past 30 years and it has been one way.
They don't want anything to do with him. They demand he
steps down."

Security presence

[Our producer in Egypt reports on the latest
developments in Tahrir Square]

Up to 250,000 people are continuing to demonstrate in
Cairo's Tahrir square after hundreds remained camped
out overnight, defying a curfew that has been extended
by the army.

There is a heavy army presence around the area, with
tanks positioned near the square and officers checking
identity papers.

One of Al Jazeera's correspondents said military
attempts to block access to the square on Monday by
closing roads was not working as more people were
arriving in a steady stream.

"Protesters say they'll stay in this square for as long
as Mubarak stays in power," she said.

Protesters seem unfazed by Mubarak's pledge to
institute economic and political reforms. Our
correspondent said people feel that such pledges "are
too little, too late".

Al Jazeera reporters in Cairo also said police had been
seen returning to the streets, directing traffic, after
being absent since Friday.

"We are waiting for the minister of interior to
announce in what form they are going to come back onto
the streets and why they disappeared after Friday
prayers, on the 'second day of rage'," one
correspondent said.

"The absence of police has given looters a free rein,
forcing ordinary citizens to set up neighbourhood
patrols. Many people are wondering where the police
disappeared to.

"There are two schools of thought as far as the police
are concerned: One is that many of them decided to join
the protesters.

"The other is that the regime was saying to the people,
'You want to protest. We'll pull back the police and
you feel what anarchy feels like'," our correspondent
said.

After deadly clashes in which around 125 people were
killed in Cairo and other cities, protesters complained
that police were using excessive force.

But an Al Jazeera correspondent said some locals
greeted police as "long-lost friends" on Monday.

"It's almost as if the population of Cairo is suffering
from selective amnesia ... We saw one small boy
carrying a tray a of tea to a group of policemen.
Another man got out of his car, kissed and hugged the
policemen."

Panic and chaos

Meanwhile, many people are reported to be panic buying
in Cairo amid the unrest.

"I walked into a supermarket and saw complete mayhem,"
an Al Jazeera correspondent said.

"People are stocking up on supplies as much as they
can. There are very few rations available in the
stores. They are running out of basic supplies, like
eggs, cheese and meat. Deliveries have not been coming
for days."

Chaos has also been reported at Cairo's international
airport, where thousands of foreigners are attempting
to be evacuated by their home countries.

As the protests continue, security is said to be
deteriorating and reports have emerged of several
prisons across the country being attacked and of fresh
protests being staged in cities like Alexandria and
Suez.

Thirty-four leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood were
freed from the Wadi Natroun jail after guards abandoned
their posts. 

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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