Army ‘not to use force’ in Egypt

Explicit confirmation comes before Tuesday’s “march of millions” to force President Hosni Mubarak to step down.

The Egyptian army has said it would not use force against citizens staging protests to force President Hosni Mubarak to step down

In a statement on Monday it said “freedom of expression” was guaranteed to all citizens using peaceful means.

It was the first such explicit confirmation by the army that it would not fire at demonstrators who have taken to the streets of Egypt and comes a day before before Tuesday’s “march of millions” to mark the seventh day of the protests as anti-government sentiment reaches fever pitch.

“The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and wellbeing. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people,” the army statement said.

“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.”

It urged people not to resort to acts of sabotage that violate security and destroy public and private property. It warned that it would not allow outlaws to loot, attack and “terrorise citizens”.

Protesters have called for a massive demonstration and a rolling general strike on Tuesday.

The so-called April 6 Movement said it plans to have more than one million people on the streets of the capital Cairo.

The call came as Mubarak swore in a new cabinet in an attempt to defuse ongoing demonstrations across the country.

But opposition groups say personnel changes will not placate them and have said they will continue until the president steps down.

“The whole regime must come down,” Hassan, a construction worker and protester told the Reuters news agency.

“We do not want anyone from Mubarak’s retinue in the new government, which the people will choose. We want a civil government run by the people themselves.”

Army presence

Up to 250,000 people are continuing to demonstrate in Cairo’s Tahrir square after hundreds remained camped out overnight, defying a curfew that has been extended by the army.

There is a heavy army presence around the area, with tanks positioned near the square and officers checking identity papers.

One of Al Jazeera’s correspondents said military attempts to block access to the square on Monday by closing roads was not working as more people were arriving in a steady stream.

“Protesters say they’ll stay in this square for as long as Mubarak stays in power,” she said.

Protesters seem unfazed by Mubarak’s pledge to institute economic and political reforms. Our correspondent said people feel that such pledges “are too little, too late”.

Al Jazeera reporters in Cairo also said police had been seen returning to the streets, directing traffic, after being absent since Friday.

“We are waiting for the minister of interior to announce in what form they are going to come back onto the streets and why they disappeared after Friday prayers, on the ‘second day of rage’,” one correspondent said.

“The absence of police has given looters a free rein, forcing ordinary citizens to set up neighbourhood patrols. Many people are wondering where the police disappeared to.

“There are two schools of thought as far as the police are concerned: One is that many of them decided to join the protesters.

“The other is that the regime was saying to the people, ‘You want to protest. We’ll pull back the police and you feel what anarchy feels like’,” our correspondent said.

After deadly clashes in which around 125 people were killed in Cairo and other cities, protesters complained that police were using excessive force.

But an Al Jazeera correspondent said some locals greeted police as “long-lost friends” on Monday.

“It’s almost as if the population of Cairo is suffering from selective amnesia … We saw one small boy carrying a tray a of tea to a group of policemen. Another man got out of his car, kissed and hugged the policemen.”

Panic and chaos

Meanwhile, many people are reported to be panic buying in Cairo amid the unrest.

“I walked into a supermarket and saw complete mayhem,” an Al Jazeera correspondent said.

“People are stocking up on supplies as much as they can. There are very few rations available in the stores. They are running out of basic supplies, like eggs, cheese and meat. Deliveries have not been coming for days.”

Chaos has also been reported at Cairo’s international airport, where thousands of foreigners are attempting to be evacuated by their home countries.

As the protests continue, security is said to be deteriorating and reports have emerged of several prisons across the country being attacked and of fresh protests being staged in cities like Alexandria and Suez.

Thirty-four leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood were freed from the Wadi Natroun jail after guards abandoned their posts.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/01/20111311965695371.html

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