Egypt army 'not to fire on protesters'

Egypt army called protesters' demands "legitimate", promising not to use force against people.

Egypt army 'not to fire on protesters'

Egypt's armed forces pledged not to fire on peaceful demonstrators on Monday as thousands of people, freed from fear after decades of oppression, tried to press home their campaign to oust President Hosni Mubarak.

The army, which put Mubarak into power in 1981, seemed to be weighing whether to shift its loyalties as the former general's opponents spoke of getting a million people onto the streets on Tuesday to mark a week since the unprecedented protests began.

The military command, which may be keener to preserve a 60-year-old system of army-backed government than to prolong the personal rule of the 82-year-old Mubarak, issued a statement on Monday calling protesters' demands "legitimate" and promising not to use force against people expressing themselves peacefully.

"The people want the president out!" chanted thousands in Cairo. "Wake up, Mubarak! Today is your last day!" was the cry of a crowd in Mahalla, a textile mill town in the Nile Delta.

On the sixth day of rallies that have roused fellow Arabs and undermined the long-entrenched assumptions of diplomats and investors, tens of thousands on the streets of Cairo and other cities poured scorn on Mubarak's bid to save his 30-year rule by naming a new set of loyalists to his government.

"There is no turning back. There is no fear," 35-year-old Hassan Shaaban said at the permanent rally in central Cairo. "After Mubarak, no other president will dare to oppress us."

"Not resorting to violence"

Since Friday, after Mubarak's hated police fought battles with young demonstrators, the army has been on the streets in a massive show of force backed by its tanks. But the soldiers, widely admired by Egyptians, have looked, letting people vent their fury over poverty and dictatorship.

In its first formal comment on events on Monday, the armed forces command issued a statement calculated for popular appeal. "The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people," it said, though it would stop looters.

"Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody."

About 140 people have died in clashes with security forces in scenes that overturned Egypt's standing as a stable country, promising emerging market and attractive tourist destination.

Some worked mobile telephones, urging friends and family to join them through the night, hoping for mass rallies on Tuesday. "I'll go home when Mubarak leaves," read one banner.

Mubarak's new government did not impress them: "This is all nonsense," said protester Omar el-Demerdash, 24, a research executive. "The demand is clear: We want Mubarak and his men to get out. Anything other than that is just not enough."

On Monday, Mubarak named General Mahmoud Wagdy as interior minister to replace a man reviled for his repressive tactics.

"This new cabinet is too little, too late. I think Mubarak will probably be gone well before 30 days is up," Zaineb Al-Assam of London-based Exclusive Analysis said.

"There are some figures in the cabinet who are deeply unpopular. An example is General Wagdy. That's going to add to the protests. Mubarak will be seen by the army as a liability."

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group, said it was seeking to form a broad political committee with retired U.N. diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei to talk to the army.

The Brotherhood, with wide support among poor Egyptians, has until now kept in the background of an uprising spearheaded by the young urban poor and students. It fears a harsh crackdown.

But on Monday it called on people to keep up the protests until Mubarak and his ruling party were fully swept from power.

Agencies

Last Mod: 01 Şubat 2011, 12:00
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