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aljazeera.: Giant protest to kick off in Egypt

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    Giant protest to kick off in Egypt Thousands begin to assemble in downtown Cairo for the million-man-march aimed at forcing president Mubarak to resign. Last
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2011
      Giant protest to kick off in Egypt
      Thousands begin to assemble in downtown Cairo for the "million-man-march" aimed at forcing president Mubarak to resign.
      Last Modified: 01 Feb 2011 09:12 GMT
      The army has said it is aware of the "legitimate demands" of the people, and has promised not to use force [Reuters]

      Protesters in the Egyptian capital have begun gathering for a planned "march of a million", calling for Hosni Mubarak, the embattled Egyptian president, to step down.

      Thousands of demonstrators began gathering from early on Tuesday morning in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which has been the focal point of protests in the capital and served as the meeting area for the march to begin on the eighth day of an uprising that has so far claimed more than 125 lives.

      Another million-strong march is planned in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, as national train services were cancelled in an apparent bid to stymie protests. Protest organisers have also called for the march to coincide with the beginning of an indefinite strike.

      Reporting from Cairo, an Al Jazeera correspondent reported that tens of thousands of people were gathering in Tahrir Square on Tuesday morning.

      "The square is absolutely packed, there is hardly standing room for people. Tens of thousands of people are still streaming towards the square," she said.

      "A lot of people I've spoken to have said they will be attending, despite reports that there is the possibility that it could turn violent.

      "The mood and atmosphere is incredible."

      Soldiers at Tahrir Square have formed a human chain around protesters, and are checking people as they enter for weapons. Tanks have been positioned near the square, and officers have been checking identity papers.

      "You certainly get the feeling that the organisers will get the numbers that they want. The word is out there, despite the fact that the internet is still down ... that people need to attend this march of a million," our correspondent said.

      "Possibly the only people who won't be attending today, obviously presidential supporters, ... Egyptians living in Cairo who have left to places like Sharm al-Shaikh where they're looking for some sort of safety, and those who will be remaining in their homes to protect them from looters.

      "But all groups, young, old, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims they are all heading [to Tahrir Square]."

      'Gaining momentum'

      Our correspondent said that there were reports that "thugs in certain parts of the city have been trying to stop people from driving into Cairo".

      She said that "increasingly large pockets of pro-governmetn protests" are also taking place at various locations in the city. There are fears that if the two sets of protesters meet, a violent clash could erupt.

      Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist who is planning on attending the rally, told Al Jazeera the protesters will not be satisfied until Mubarak steps down.

      "I think today there will be great numbers on the street ... every day there are more numbers on the street than the day before. I think the protests are gaining momentum. The people ... will literally not leave until Mubarak steps down," she said.

      On the increasing clampdown on the internet, an Al Jazeera online producer in Cairo reported: "For the most part, the internet is irrelevant to the protesters. It's just been mobile phones since the mobile phone blackout stopped a couple of days ago.

      "The thrust of the [protesters'] message is: 'Mubarak still has to go' ... that's the bottom line from everyone we've spoken to.

      "They know that they need to take some kind of decisive step, whether its a march on the presidential palace, or perhaps on state television."

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      While protesters may not reach the million-man figure, which would represent almost a tenth of the population of the city, our producer said the protest will likely "be the largest that we've seen" since the unrest began last week.

      Egyptian state television has asked people to stay at home, warning of possible violence.

      Our producer said that if today's protest does not go as planned, similar protests could be planned for Friday.

      The new protests will come as the police have returned to the streets.

      But while the police's posture to be adopted in the face of the strike and marches remains unknown, the Egyptian army stated clearly on Monday that it would not stop protests

      Faced with the prospect of massive numbers trying to converge on the capital, Egyptian authorities stopped all train traffic with immediate effect on Monday afternoon, and the state-owned national carrier EgyptAir said it was cancelling all international and domestic flights during curfew hours (3.00pm to 8.00am local time).

      Army promise

      In a statement on Monday, the army said "freedom of expression" was guaranteed to all citizens using peaceful means.

      "To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people," stress that "they have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people," said the statement.

      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 Tuesday's "march of millions".

      "The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and well-being. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people.

      "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." the army statement said.

      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".

      The call for the "million-man-march" from the so-called April 6 movement has come as Mubarak swore in a new cabinet on Monday, in an attempt to defuse ongoing demonstrations across the country.

      The opposition parties have called for Mubarak to delegate responsibilities to newly appointed vice-president Omar Suleiman, who they are prepared to negotiate with.

      Panic and chaos

      On Tuesday, even as Egypt continued to face economic turmoil as a result of protests, the International Monetary Fund said it was ready to put in a place an economic rebuilding policy for the country.

      "The IMF is ready to help in defining the kind of economic policy that could be put in place," IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said.

      Meanwhile, chaos has been reported at Cairo's international airport, where thousands of foreigners are attempting to be evacuated by their home countries.

      Our correspondent reported on Tuesday that about 1,000 US citizens have been evacuated to Cyprus or Turkey, from where they are expected to make their own way home.

      She also said that China is sending two additional planes to evacuate its citizens.

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