Egyptians mass for biggest day of anger yet

`Marches of a million` against President Hosni Mubarak`s regime are planned in Cairo and Alexandria.

Updated: Feb 01, 2011, 16:26 PM IST

Cairo: Egyptians amassed on Tuesday for the biggest day of anger yet in their unrelenting campaign to oust President Hosni Mubarak, set to be a decisive test of their resolve in an eight-day revolt that has already killed over 100.

Thousands of protesters had already flooded Cairo`s protest epicentre at Tahrir Square by early morning with "marches of a million" against Mubarak`s creaking regime planned in the Egyptian capital and Alexandria.

Many spent the night on the square, sleeping in dozens of tents or on the grass, unbowed by the troops and tanks that encircled them.

The Army, which has said it will not shoot at protesters, checked IDs and searched protesters before letting them into the square. Civilians then checked IDs again, looking for plain-clothes police who they say are being deployed as agents provocateurs.

"I will stay here till I die," said a defiant Osama Alam, wearing jacket, tie and jeans.

"If I die now my whole family will be proud of me. This is what the Egyptian people need," said the 43-year-old lawyer, an effigy of veteran Mubarak hanging from nearby traffic lights, "Off with your head" daubed on his face.

"This revolution does not belong to any political party, Muslim group, any group, just the poor Egyptian people," said one elderly Egyptian man, declining to give his name as protesters carried Mubarak`s mock coffin past him.

"This is a revolution of the poor. Mubarak and his kind stole the money, they stole the jobs, the poor people have neither jobs nor homes, and the police hit us, treat us like dogs. Mubarak is a dictator.

Another million-strong march was planned in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, as national train services were cancelled and main access roads closed in a bid to stymie protests.

A correspondent on the main Cairo-to-Alexandria road said that the Army was stopping vehicles entering the capital, with over 100 trucks and cars waiting by the roadside.

When motorists began arguing with the troops, one of them cocked his assault rifle and told the angry civilians to step back.

In a bid to defuse the crisis, Mubarak announced a new Cabinet that saw the demise of a widely feared interior minister, while his newly appointed vice president offered talks with the opposition.

But protest organisers denounced the moves as too little too late and announced an indefinite general strike, upping the pressure on the regime of Mubarak, who has been in power for 30 years.

The revolt has claimed at least 125 lives in clashes between demonstrators and police.

While it remains unknown what posture police will adopt in the face of the strike and marches, the Army stated clearly that it would not confront the demonstrators.

"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 military said in a statement.

Faced with the biggest protests of his presidency, an increasingly embattled Mubarak has appointed his first-ever vice president and a new prime minister in a desperate attempt to hold on to power.

A new Cabinet unveiled on Monday did little to placate the protesters. However, the departure of interior minister Habib al-Adly, whose notorious security forces have been accused of systematic human rights violations, was welcomed.

"We will accept no change other than Mubarak`s departure," said one protester who asked not to be named.

As the anti-regime campaign continued, Vice President Omar Suleiman said Mubarak had tasked him "with opening immediate talks with the political forces to begin a dialogue around all the issues concerning constitutional and legislative reforms".

Egypt`s main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood has called for protesters to press on until they bring down Mubarak`s entire regime.

The USA, a key ally of Egypt, has urged Mubarak to do more to defuse the crisis, with President Barack Obama calling for "an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people."

A veteran US diplomat arrived in Cairo on Monday to meet top officials.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Frank Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt, would meet with Mubarak directly, as the US believed it would be "useful" to get the president`s perspective.

The daily said officials would not say whether Wisner would be urging Mubarak to leave office or bringing a specific message from the United States.

Meanwhile, Arab League chief Amr Mussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister often tipped as a possible successor to Mubarak, called for a peaceful transition.

"There has to be a peaceful way forward, a peaceful transition ... from (one) era to the other," Mussa said. "It is incumbent upon politicians or people working in politics to help that process."

Amid chaos and lawlessness, several foreign governments said they would evacuate their nationals, and the United States authorised the departure of embassy families.

In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Janice Jacobs said at least 2,600 Americans in Egypt have asked US officials for help in leaving.

More than 1,200 left the country on Monday on nine flights headed for Larnaca in Cyprus, Istanbul and Athens, according to the State Department.

China sent two Airbus A330 jets to bring its nationals back from Egypt.

Turkey said it had brought 1,144 of its citizens home aboard five specially chartered aircraft of Turkish Airlines from Cairo and Alexandria on Sunday night, in addition to 330 flown back over the weekend.

Bureau Report