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July 12, 2011 7:47 pm
Thousands of Egyptians occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square and locations in other cities for a fifth day on Tuesday, dismissing promises of reform and calling for the removal of the military council ruling the country since the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the former president, was overthrown in February.
“We won’t leave, the council must go,” protesters chanted, using the same slogans as against Mr Mubarak.
The Supreme Council for the Armed Forces, Egypt’s interim military rulers, issued their first statement to the protesters on Tuesday, stressing their support for Essam Sharaf, the prime minister, and warning that “political interests” were being put ahead of the public interest.
“The Supreme Council calls on honourable citizens to stand against all behaviour that prevents the return to normal life,” said General Mohsen al-Fangari, spokesman for the Armed Forces, in a statement read out on state television.
Some protesters interpreted this as a veiled threat, recalling attacks on protests by pro-Mubarak forces in February that were carried out in the name of stability.
In a nod to the demands of some of the protesters, the military said it would draft a set of regulations for selecting the 100-member assembly that will draft a constitution.
Until now the military's road map to democracy only entailed a September parliament vote, the selection of the constituent assembly by the new legislature and presidential elections to be held late this year or early in 2012.
Despite the pledge, a crowd of about 2,000 marched on the prime minister’s office on a street near Tahrir Square, shouting: “No to military rule.”
Another crowd stood outside parliament calling the SCAF a “council of thieves”.
“[Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein] Tantawi [head of the SCAF] must leave, he is corrupt and served Mubarak for 20 years. What Mr Sharaf says is not enough, he has no real power. The SCAF has the real power,” said Mahmoud Abdelmoneim, who had camped in Tahrir Square since Friday.
In a speech on Monday, Mr Sharaf promised to shuffle his cabinet and pledged to remove some provincial governors by the end of the month.
Most protesters reacted negatively to the speech, saying it did not deliver enough.
They want a special tribunal to be established for the trial of officials involved in repression in January and February, and the expedition of Mr Mubarak’s trial in particular.
Other demands include an end of referring civilians to military tribunals and better wages for public sector workers.
Egypt's state news agency said the Supreme Judicial Council, the country's highest legal body, has decided to allow live transmission of the trials of Mubarak-era officials accused of corruption as well as police officers charged with killing protesters.
The footage will be relayed to public screens outside courthouses, it said. Protesters have been complaining of the lack of transparency in these trials.
Egypt's benchmark stock index extended its decline for a third day on Tuesday, pulled lower by an escalation of tension in the country that brokers attributed to investor fears about the continuing protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities.
“If there's a decision showing that people will get their rights ... this could stabilize the market,'' he added.
“The sales pressure shows that people are unloading because of fears about the protests,” said Ahmed Hanafi, head of research at Gothour Trading.
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