Protesters are trickling in to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the planned starting point of a “march of a million”, on the eighth day of an uprising that has claimed at least 125 lives in clashes between demonstrators and police.
Another million-strong march is planned in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, as national train services were cancelled in an apparent bid to stymie protests.
Reporting from Cairo, an Al Jazeera correspondent reported that the number of people gathered in Tahrir Square on Tuesday morning was larger than had been seen on earlier days at the same time.
“The numbers are certainly larger than we’ve seen over the last couple of days, and there’s a steady trickle of people walking into the square. A lot of people I’ve spoken to have said they will be attending, despite reports that there is the possibility that it could turn violent,” she said.
“You certainly get the feeling that the organisers will get the numbers that they want. The word is out there, despite the fact that the internet is still down … that people need to attend this march of a million.
“Possibly the only people who won’t be attending today, obviously presidential supporters, … Egyptians living in Cairo who have left to places like Sharm al-Shaikh where they’re looking for some sort of safety, and those who will be remaining in their homes to protect them from looters.
“But all groups, young, old, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims they are all heading [to Tahrir Square].”
Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist who is planning on attending the rally, told Al Jazeera the protesters will not be satisfied until Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, steps down.
“I think today there will be great numbers on the street … every day there are more numbrs on the street than the day before. I think the protests are gaining momentum. The people … will literally not leave until Mubarak steps down,” she said.
The new protests will come as the police have returned to the streets.
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.
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,” said 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”.
“The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and well-being. 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.”
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.