Egyptians frustrated with military rule battled police in the streets for the fourth day in a row on Tuesday as the generals scrambled to cope with the cabinet’s proffered resignation after bloodshed that has jolted plans for Egypt’s first free election in decades.
In a stinging verdict on nine months of army control, London-based rights group Amnesty International accused the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of brutality sometimes exceeding that of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Thousands of people defied tear gas wafting across Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the focus of protests that have swelled since Friday into the gravest challenge yet to the generals who replaced Mubarak and who seem reluctant to relinquish military power and privilege.
The army council, headed by a 76-year-old field marshal who served as Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades, was due to meet political parties to discuss the crisis, in which at least 36 people have been killed and more than 1,250 wounded.
The United States, which gives Egypt’s military $1.3 billion a year in aid, has called for restraint on all sides and urged Egypt to proceed with elections due to start on Monday despite the violence, a stance broadly echoed by many European leaders.
Protesters waving flags and singing songs skirmished with security forces in and around Tahrir Square, where banners read “Save Egypt from thieves and the military” and “Handing power to civilians is the demand of all Egyptians”.
Youth groups have called for a mass turnout later in the day to press demands for the military to give way to civilian rule now, rather than according to its own ponderous timetable, which could keep it in power until late 2012 or early 2013.
Security forces put up barbed wire on streets leading from Tahrir to the Interior Ministry, but an army officer on the spot said protesters had repeatedly removed the makeshift barriers.
“Come to Tahrir, tomorrow we will overthrow the field marshal!” youthful protesters chanted, referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the army commander.
Tantawi and his colleagues will not formally accept the resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s government until they have agreed on a new premier, an army source said.
It was not clear if the army would try to replace the whole cabinet – a tough challenge with polling only days away – or just ditch the unpopular interior and information ministers.
The army council has vowed to proceed with the parliamentary election due to get under way on Monday, but the bloody chaos in the heart of Cairo and elsewhere has thrown plans into disarray.
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which anticipates a strong showing in the election, will attend the meeting with the military council, scheduled for midday with four other parties. Four presidential candidates will also be there.
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