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Angry crowds calling for change once again fill Cairo streets

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CAIRO -- The tens of thousands of Egyptians whose chants for faster change are ringing through Cairo's Tahrir Square months after they brought down Hosni Mubarak got a stern warning Tuesday from the ruling generals not to disrupt daily life in what some activists are calling a second revolution.

The crowds again packing the symbolic square that was the center of the 18-day uprising in January and February defied the military council and staged a sit-in there for a fifth straight day, shutting down the heart of downtown Cairo and blocking access to a major government building.

Under a baking summer sun, they revised the slogan that resounded in Tahrir in the winter, which went, "The people want to bring down the regime." On Tuesday, they cried out: "The people want to bring down the military junta," in reference to the generals who took control as Mubarak stepped down.

Activists who once viewed the army as allies now accuse the military council of stalling on demands to bring police and ex-regime figures to justice for abuses during Mubarak's nearly three decades in power and for the deaths of nearly 900 people in the protests Jan. 25 through Feb. 11.

An estimated 30,000 people filled the square Tuesday, and tents and banners have sprung up again, giving the round-the-clock protest camp an air of semi-permanence like it had in the winter.

In another scene reminiscent of the uprising and the tactics Mubarak's police state used to try to snuff it out, a band of 30 men armed with sticks set upon protesters, wounding six of them.

Hours later, the military issued a thinly veiled threat to use force.

"All options are open to solve this situation," military council spokesman Mahmoud Hegazi told reporters.

A statement read out on state TV by finger-wagging council member Maj. Gen. Mohsen el-Fangari warned protesters against "harming national interests." It called on "honorable" Egyptians to confront actions that disrupt a return to normal life, something many interpreted to be a call on Egyptians to turn against each other.

The protesters' new display of street power -- not just in Cairo but around the nation -- in recent days appears to be spurring the military and the interim government to act.

Interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, whose office near Tahrir was surrounded by thousands of protesters Tuesday, said he planned to change many of the country's provincial governors by the end of the month, weeding out Mubarak loyalists.

A day earlier, he said he would reshuffle the Cabinet within a week.


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