Protesters thwart Egyptian army’s efforts to clear square

There was a tense stand-off in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on
Sunday as protesters who have camped there for 20 days thwarted army efforts to
clear the area.

Thousands more people made their way to the square, the
focal point of the uprising that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s departure on

The army seemed undecided on how to respond to the fresh
influx, reports the BBC’s Jon Leyne from the scene.

The military police chief called for tents to be cleared
from the area.

“We do not want any protesters to sit in the square after
today,” said Mohamed Ibrahim Moustafa Ali, the head of military police.

Tahrir square hadn’t been this tense for days. Many of
the demonstrators woke to find the army had swarmed into the square and had
begun to dismantle protesters’ tents.

The tanks that had been blocking access to the square
were pulled back and traffic began flowing on to the roads where protesters
were standing.

There was growing anger in the square as more and more
soldiers began slowly but forcefully to squeeze the protesters out of the areas
they had been holding for weeks.

Then a roar went up from the crowd as they realised
hundreds of policeman had entered the square. These were the same men that just
weeks ago had been beating and tear-gassing them and the crowd were furious.


Die-hard protesters

The police chanted: “It’s a new Egypt, the people and the
police are one,” echoing a popular chant by the anti-Mubarak groups in support
of the army during the height of the demonstrations.

The crowd chanted back: “Get out, get out!”

For a few minutes there was a tense stand-off as the two
sides confronted each other, before the police march peeled away and left the

Although there were reports of scuffles between soldiers
and die-hard protesters in the square on Sunday morning, the BBC said the
operation to clear the area had previously been conducted unprovocatively.

A hard core of several hundred protesters had remained
marooned on a traffic island in the heart of the square, saying they would not move
until a full timetable of reform was drawn up.

Throughout the weekend, an army of volunteers and
municipal workers cleared away debris from the streets.

Meanwhile, it emerged that eight antiquities – including
statues of King Tutankhamun – had been stolen from the Egyptian Museum during
the unrest.


Peace treaty to remain intact

Earlier, US President
Barak Obama welcomed the new military leadership’s statement aired on state TV
on Saturday, which implicitly confirms that the country’s 1979 peace treaty
with Israel will remain intact.

Israeli PM Benjamin
Netanyahu also welcomed the announcement, saying the treaty was a cornerstone
of Middle East stability.

Former British Prime
Minister Tony Blair – and current Middle East envoy – has said Mr Mubarak’s
departure could be a “pivotal moment”.

“I think the single
most important thing now is to accept that this is a moment of huge
opportunity, not just for Egypt,” Mr Blair told the BBC.

“This is a moment
when the Middle East could pivot and face towards change and modernisation and
democracy and that would be a huge benefit for all of us.

Saturday’s military
statement said the current government and regional governors would “act as
caretakers”, looking to guarantee “a peaceful transition of authority in a free
democratic framework which allows an elected civilian authority to rule the
country, to build a free democratic country”.

The military has
managed to give the impression of being above politics, a unifying force for
the nation, but the opposition wants an early and clear indication that this
country is heading in a new direction and not simply swapping one dictatorship
for another, says the BBC correspondent.

World Story

Many protesters tried to thwart the army’s attempts to remove them from Tahrir Square on Sunday.
Photo: File

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