- Army says respects demands, wants return of normal life
- Some protesters vow to stay in square to secure demands
CAIRO, (Reuters) - Hundreds of Egyptian soldiers shoved pro-democracy protesters aside to force a path for traffic to start flowing through central Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Sunday for the first time in more than two weeks.
Protesters chanted “Peacefully, peacefully” as the soldiers and military police in red berets moved in to disperse them. Scuffles broke out and some soldiers lashed out with sticks.
The military police chief told protesters to clear tents from the square and not to disrupt traffic.
“We do not want any protesters to sit in the square after today,” Mohamed Ibrahim Moustafa Ali, the head of military police, told protesters and reporters, as soldiers removed tents from the square.
The army has said it respects the demands of protesters, whose mass action drove Hosni Mubarak from power. But it has also called on them to go home and let normal life resume.
Protests erupted on Jan. 25 and traffic stopped flowing through Tahrir after Jan. 28. The square became the epicentre of nationwide demonstrations, with many protesters camping there.
The early morning violence did not last long, but the army action, backed by dozens of military police, split demonstrators who had previously controlled the square into smaller groups.
“In the square, in the square, we demand our rights in the square,” some chanted as soldiers corralled the crowd.
About 2,000 demonstrators remained in the square and some tents were still pitched in the grassy central area.
Although Mubarak’s resignation on Saturday met the key demand of protesters, many said they planned to stay in the square to ensure the military council now in charge of Egypt made way for civilian rule and democracy as it had promised.
Protesters demand the abolition of emergency law that has been used to stifle dissent for three decades, the release of all political prisoners, and free and fair elections.
“The army is the backbone of Egypt. The solution is not to remove us from the square. They must respond to our demands,” said a protester over loudspeakers.
Protesters said soldiers had detained some of their leaders and that more than 30 people had been taken to an army holding area around the Egyptian Museum, next to the square.
Troops were ordered onto the streets on Jan. 28 after police fought street battles to try to contain protests but lost control. The army has taken a largely neutral role, but has detained some protesters and journalists, often briefly.
“There is no enmity between the people and armed forces ... We ask you not to attack our sons. This is not the (behaviour) of the armed forces. This is a peaceful protest,” one protester said on loudspeakers. “We demand that the armed forces release all our sons that have been arrested in Tahrir.”
Some passersby felt the time for protests was over.
“Haven’t they got what they want? Can someone explain to me what is left of their demands?” asked one bystander.
But Jihad Laban, an accountant, said much work remained to make sure the revolution did not squander what it had gained.
“We stood by the army in their revolution,” he said, alluding to the 1952 coup that toppled the British-backed king. “They need to stand with us in ours.
“The goal was never just to get rid of Mubarak. The system is totally corrupt and we won’t go until we see some real reforms. I am going to be buried in Tahrir, I am here for my children. Egypt is too precious to walk away now.”
A 38-year-old industrial worker who gave his name only as Mohamed, said he had changed his mind about going home.
“I was going to leave today, but after what the military has done, the millions will be back again. The corrupt system still stands. It has gone back to using the only thing it understands -- force. If we leave, they won’t respond to our demands.”