Cairo protesters hold firm

Tens of thousands in Tahrir Square demand that President Mubarak quit, as the ruling party's top leadership resigns.

    Demonstrators are standing their ground in Cairo a day after hundreds of thousands of people gathered to call for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to quit.

    The protests entered their twelfth day on Saturday, after the city's Tahrir Square, the focal point of protests in Egypt, saw demonstrators observe a "Day of Departure" on Friday.

    About 10,000 pro-democracy protesters also gathered outside the main train station in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, Al Jazeera's correspondent there reported.

    The leadership of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) resigned en masse on Saturday, according to state television.

    Hossam Badrawi has been appointed the new secretary-general of the party, replacing Safwat El-Sherif, a Mubarak loyalist, in that post. Badrawi, seen by many as a liberal voice in the NDP, will also replace Gamal Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak's son, as head of the party's policies bureau.

    Other new appointees include: Dr Mohamed Ragah Ahmed, Dr Mohamed Ahmed Abd El-Illah, Maged Mahmoud Younes El-Shirbiny, Mohamed Ahmed Abd El-Salam Hebah and Dr Mohamed Mostafa Kamal, according to an NDP press release.

    Frank Wisner, who has acted as an envoy for Barack Obama, the US president, by carrying a message to Mubarak, has said the Egyptian president "must stay in office to steer" a process of gathering "national consensus around the preconditions" for the way forward.

    PJ Crowley, the US state department's spokesman, has said, however, that Wisner was speaking as a private citizen, and that his views did not represent those of the US government.

    "The views he expressed today are his own. He did not coordinate his comments with the US government," Crowley said.

    Obama administration officials welcomed the resignation of Gamal Mubarak, terming it a "positive" move.

    Despite the continuing demonstrations and the resignations, Ahmed Shafiq, the prime minister, said stability was returning to the country and that he was confident a deal could be reached on constitutional reforms. At a news conference aired on state television, Shafiq suggested that the government was seeking to enter into talks with enough opposition representatives to isolate street protesters.

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    Saturday's protests in Cairo were calm, and protesters were seen lighting campfires across the square as night drew in.

    With the exception of a standoff between two groups who were chanting slogans, there was no violence reported on Saturday.

    One of Al Jazeera's correspondents in Cairo said there were about 10,000 people in Tahrir Square and queues of people trying to get in. About 500 people joined the protesters from the port city of Suez.

    Our correspondent reported that the army was "behaving as if it's back to business as usual tomorrow [Sunday]". He said that the military had removed checkpoints on the 6th of October bridge, allowing traffic to resume normally.

    "The army is still securing the square, but their agenda appears to be isolating the protesters - keeping them safe, yes, but also minimising their impact on the surrounding areas," our correspondent said.

    General rejected 

    At one point, General Hassan El-Rawani, the head of the army's central command, entered the square and appealed to protesters to leave.

    They responded with chants of "We are not leaving, he [Mubarak] is leaving!"


    Protesters tell army commander "We won't go!"

    Protest organisers have now called for a "Day of the Martyred" to be observed in honour of those who have died in the protests so far, while Copts in Egypt have called for Sunday prayers this week to be observed in Tahrir Square.

    Security in the square remains tight, with the military engaging in negotiations with protesters to dismantle some of the barricades that they had put up.

    "There is very tight security today [Saturday] because there have been all sorts of unconfirmed rumours of bombs being planted in different areas, which has caused a bit of panic," she said.

    Another of our correspondents reported that soldiers had formed a line inside the square, around 100 metres beyond the museum barricade, and are separating the protesters inside the square from those manning the barricade.

    "If I had to guess, I'd say the plan is to limit the number of protesters who can get to the museum barricade and then disassemble it, so that the army can regain control of that entrance," he said.

    "It looked like there might've been some altercation there; protesters were hopping over the barricades to the outside.

    "They've now formed their own human chain, facing outward, along the exterior of the barricade."

    Cabinet meeting

    Meanwhile, state media reported that Mubarak met ministers responsible for the main economic portfolios in his new government on Saturday.

    The meeting included the prime minister, finance minister, oil minister and the trade and industry minister. The central bank governor also attended.

    On Friday, Egypt's prosecutor-general had barred Rashid Mohammed Rashid, the former trade and industry minister, from leaving the country, and had frozen his bank accounts.

    The same measures was also taken against Habib al-Adly, the former interior minister, and Ahmed Ezz, a businessman.

    'Death or freedom'

    Friday's "Day of Departure" commenced after afternoon prayers, and saw huge numbers also gather in the cities of Alexandria, Mahalla and Giza.

    Opposition Demands

     Hosni Mubarak must go
     Dissolve parliament
     Lift state of emergency
     Transitional unity cabinet
     Constitutional amendments
     Fair and transparent trials

    Protests continued into the night, in defiance of a curfew that has not been observed since it was first announced last week.

    The newly relaxed curfew now runs from 7pm to 6am local time, according to state television.

    One protester in Cairo told Al Jazeera that demonstrations will continue until Mubarak steps down.

    "It's either death, or freedom," he said.

    Ahmed Shafiq, Egypt's new prime minister, however, said on Friday that Mubarak would not be handing over powers to Omar Suleiman, the vice-president, before the September elections. In statements carried by the official MENA news agency, Shafiq "ruled out" an early exit for Mubarak.

    "We need President Mubarak to stay for legislative reasons," he said.

    One of our correspondents said some people outside Tahrir Square are beginning to become angry because they are not going to work, they do not have money and shops are running out of food.

    "Who is going to represent [the protesters]? Who is going to lead negotiations with the government? Whoever you speak to has a different idea of what is to come because the demonstrators are a very diverse group," she said.

    Speaking on Friday in Washington, Barack Obama, the US president, said it was "clear that there must be a transition process that begins now ... and leads to free and fair elections".

    On Saturday, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia's top religious authority, warned that anti-regime uprisings are "chaotic acts" aimed at "tearing .. apart" the Muslim world.  

    Journalists detained

    On Saturday, authorities arrested an Al Jazeera journalist who was returning from leave in Cairo to Doha at Cairo's international airport. He was released later in the day, along with Al Jazeera' bureau chief in Cairo, who was detained on Friday and another journalist who was arrested three days ago.

    People continue to throng to the square,
    despite the cold and rain [GALLO/GETTY] 

    One other Al Jazeera journalist remained in custody.

    On Friday, Al Jazeera's offices in Cairo were attacked by "gangs of thugs", according to a statement from the network. The office was burned, along with the equipment inside it.

    Security forces also earlier broke into the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood's website and arrested 12 journalists there, Al Masry Al Youm, the country's largest independent newspaper, and the Associated Press reported on Friday.

    An Egyptian journalist wounded in earlier anti-government protests has died of his injuries, his wife told Al Jazeera on Friday.

    Ahmed Mohammed Mahmoud, who worked with state-owned daily al-Ahram, was wounded on January 29 during anti-government protests. He is the first journalist known to have died in the unrest.

    Human Rights Watch, an international rights organisation, said in a statement on Friday that of more than 30 people arrested on Thursday, international activists had been released, but that Egyptian nationals remained in custody.

    Amnesty International, the international human rights group, meanwhile, has said that two of its employees have been missing since last Thursday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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