Egypt: protesters prepare “departure day” march as street battles continue

Fighting between protesters and government loyalists raged into a second day in Egypt Feb. 3, with clashes continuing for control of Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The Health Ministry said five people have been killed and 835 injured over the past 24 hours. Army troops finally moved in to create a buffer zone between the clashing demonstrators early in the day, but pro-regime militants later broke through the lines to hurl stones and protesters. Opposition leaders say they will go ahead with plans for a massive demonstration on Friday, their designated “departure day” for Mubarak.

The regime has shown some signs of capitulation. Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized for the deadly violence and said he was “ready to go to Tahrir Square to talk to the protesters”—a reversal of the government’s stance since protests broke out on Jan. 25. The public prosecutor said officials, including widely hated former interior minister Habib al-Adly, have been banned from travelling and their accounts frozen pending investigation. Vice President Omar Suleiman called on police to release detained detained youth “not involved in criminal acts.” At least 1,000 are believed to have been detained.

Activists rejected Shafiq’s offer to talk. National Association for Change spokesman Mohammed Abul Ghar said: “Our decision is clear: no negotiations with the government before Mubarak goes. After that, we’re ready for dialogue with Suleiman.” The coalition includes members of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as pro-democracy elements such as the Kefaya (Change) movement.

In Washington, the Obama administration again called for restraint on “both sides” (as if the violence of the two sides were equivalent) and condemned the violence against “peaceful protesters” (as if repression against those who fight back against assault is acceptable). UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the attacks on protesters are “unacceptable.” (AFP, Middle East Online, Feb. 3)

Amnesty International condemned the “sweeping crackdown,” saying that activists and journalists have been harassed, and two Amnesty staff members detained. The two Amnesty delegates were among about 30 detained during a raid by security forces on the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC) in Cairo Feb. 3. The detained also include rights activist Ahmed Seif Al Islam and Khaled Ali, director of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR). (Amnesty International, Feb. 3)

See our last posts on Egypt and the new Arab uprisings.

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