Cairo, Nov 23: Thousands of pro-democracy protesters today demanded an immediate end to military rule in Egypt, clashing with soldiers at the iconic Tahrir Square, rejecting fresh overtures by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi to hold a referendum for transfer of power to a civilian authority.
“We don't believe Tantawi. Tantawi is Mubarak, copy pasted. He is Mubarak in a military uniform,” they chanted, giving a sharp rebuff to the ageing military ruler Tantawi, who was once the handpicked defence minister of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Chanting “Leave”, “Leave”, to the Army, the protesters refused to budge from the square and clashed with the police. Five days of unrest across the country has claimed 38 lives so far and left more than 2,000 wounded.
Last night, 76-year-old Field Marshal Tantawi, who is ruling Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, addressed the nation and promised that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) is “committed to holding Parliamentary elections on time.
Presidential polls will be held before the end of 2012.” The armed forces and the military council are not aiming to rule the country and are and are putting the interests of Egypt above all else and are fully prepared to hold a referendum on transferring power immediately to a civilian authority, if the people demand it.” The speech was rejected by the protesters at Tahrir.
Clashes broke out at Mohammad Mahmud, just off the Tahrir Square, which has now become the epicentre of anti-military protest and later health department officials said, three people were brought dead to the hospital, including a 10 year old child.
Police and para military forces barricaded all roads leading to the square, shooting tear gas and cane charging the protesters.
Despite calls by the Army and the police, protesters are refusing to move out from the area, forcing direct confrontation with authorities.
The continued standoff brought the country to a fresh crisis as the authorities were unable to stop protests with less than a week before the parliamentary elections, first since ouster of Mubarak.
Tantawi had promised to push up Presidential elections in the first half of 2012 but the protesters rejected his olive branch, and remained adamant on formation of a national salvation government.
Tantawi made the announcement in an appearance on TV as protesters fought with soldiers and police in streets leading to the iconic square—the birthplace of the revolution.
The protesters said, they wanted to hear nothing short of immediate end to military rule. The Army now appears to be in direct line of confrontation with the protesters as people are angry at the military council, which they accuse of being an extension of old regime and of resorting to Mubarak-era tactics of stifling dissent.
The continued wave of fresh protest have already led to the resignation of the cabinet headed by Essam Sharaf on Monday, ahead of the crucial parliamentary polls which are due from November 28.
Already the Egyptian media is dubbing the protest as “A second revolution”, warning that relations between the Army and the public were close to break point. Police have been using tear gas, rubber bullets and bird shot against protesters who have been throwing stones. The violence erupted on Saturday after a peaceful protest against the continuing military rule on Friday.
Egypt, that saw the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak in February this year, has plunged into fresh crisis after protesters returned in large numbers to Tahrir Square to put pressure on the military to quicken the transition to democracy.