April 11, 2011 / 5:33 PM / 9 years ago

Egypt protesters defy call to leave Cairo square

CAIRO (Reuters) - Around 2,000 protesters defied an army demand to quit Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday, vowing to stay until Egypt’s ruling military council heeds their demand for civilian rule and a deeper purge of corrupt officials.

Egyptian protesters stand near barbed wire after clashes with the Egyptian army occurred during the night near Tahrir Square in Cairo April 9, 2011. Thousands of protesters turned their anger on the army on Saturday demanding that Egypt's ruling military council hand power to civilians and pressing for former president Hosni Mubarak to be put on trial. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The mostly young demonstrators, some of them unemployed, have blocked roads to Tahrir using coils of barbed wire since Friday, when hundreds of thousands massed for one of the biggest protests since president Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

State media said prosecutors had frozen assets of 200 people since Mubarak was forced from office in February.

Former oil minister Sameh Fahmy and his wife had their bank accounts and assets frozen, official news agency MENA reported on Monday.

But the protesters want more and swifter action and have promised to occupy Tahrir Square until a new round of protests on Friday, irritating some Cairo residents who showed little sympathy for their cause.

“I passed by the square and all I saw were unemployed youths bumming around,” said Ali Abdullah, owner of a shop near Tahrir. He called the demonstrators “a bunch of slackers with nothing to do but cause trouble”.

The army had announced that Tahrir would be cleared, but has kept its distance since a failed attempt to remove the protesters on Friday night using tasers and batons.

Rights groups accused the army of employing excessive force and on Monday there was little to suggest it was preparing for a new attempt to clear the square, a major thoroughfare in the traffic-snarled capital.

A dozen troop carriers and a line of soldiers were posted near Tahrir, focus of the 18-day revolt that culminated on February 11 when Mubarak stepped down after three decades in power.

Around 2,000 protesters chatted in groups or gathered up debris still littering the square after the weekend violence.

Office workers and families with children strolled past street vendors selling Egyptian flags and food and the charred remains of burnt out army vehicles.

“The challenge is keeping the square occupied with protesters from now till Friday,” said Ismail Ahmed, a protester and activist. “Opposition forces have said they will rally in Tahrir this Friday, so we are not worried.”


About 20 military police approached one entrance to the square and demanded the protesters leave.

Their call went unheeded.

“We expect thugs to slip into the square and break up our ranks. So we must be vigilant,” said protester Mohamed Fahmy.

Medical sources said 13 men were wounded by gunfire and two people died on Friday night as the army tried to clear the demonstrators from Tahrir during a 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

Thousands more joined the protest on Saturday, calling for the resignation of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads the ruling council.

Many of the demonstrators who thronged Tahrir on Friday were demanding that Mubarak stand trial for corruption. Speaking for the first time since being overthrown, Mubarak said on Sunday the allegations against him were “lies”.

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