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Egypt protesters gear up for “Friday of Departure”

Crowd worried by army removal of barricades.

February 4, 2011 11:08 by

Thousands of Egyptian protesters gathered in a central Cairo square on Friday to force the immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in what the crowd dubbed the “Friday of Departure”.

“Today is the last day … today is the last day!” protesters shouted as Arabic pop songs blared from a bank of speakers: “For Egypt, today is a day a celebration!”

Many of the crowd had kept vigil in Tahrir (Liberation) Square overnight, while others pitched tents or slept on the ground, defying calls from the army and the vice president they should go home because their demands had been heard.

As the protests demanding an end to 30 years of Mubarak rule entered their 11th day, the army began removing barricades the protesters had erected after supporters of the president launched a deadly assault on them two days ago that left at least 10 dead and more than 800 wounded.

Organisers called on people to march from wherever they were towards the square, the state television building and the parliament building — all within a mile of one another.

Mubarak supporters on the main highway from Alexandria blocked cars from entering Cairo to prevent anti-Mubarak protesters from joining the demonstrations, a witness said.

Witnesses in the square said that soon after daybreak six army trucks had pulled up and soldiers begun dismantling a barrier at the northern end, prompting fears of a repeat of Wednesday’s attack by men throwing petrol bombs, wielding sticks and charging on camels and horses.

“Protesters ran to argue with the army, but an officer said ‘we are on your side, but we have orders from above to clear all barricades’,” said Omar el-Mahdi, 28, who was one of those who went to talk to the army.

“This will open the way for thugs to come in unhindered.”

Protesters had formed human chains to guard the square and were checking the bags and identification cards of people as they entered to keep out pro-Mubarak supporters.

Protesters said barbed wire had been put out at all 12 entrance points to the square.

Protester Shaaban Mindawy, 24, said the army, working with police, had been trying to prevent people from entering the square since Thursday evening.

“The officers were very stubborn,” Mindawy said, having found a way in from a side street. “The army was confiscating food and medical supplies that people were trying to bring inside. The officers were telling people that thugs may attack them and take their money.”

(Writing by Patrick Werr; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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