Thousands of protesters rallied across Egypt on Friday, capping a week of nationwide sit-ins to demand political change as anger grows with the military rulers over the slow pace of reform.
More than 28 movements called for the rallies to pressure the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — which took power when president Hosni Mubarak was toppled — to respond to their demands.
In Cairo, thousands of demonstrators crowded into Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the protest movement that overthrew Mubarak in February and where hundreds have been staging a sit-in for a week.
A preacher who gave the sermon at the Friday noon prayer in the square called for speedy trials of policemen responsible for the deaths of protesters during the 18-day revolt and led a funeral prayer for them, the official MENA news agency reported.
The protesters, who have dubbed the rallies as the “Friday of the Final Warning,” are calling for a defined and transparent plan for the transition, criticising the military junta for their absolute grip on power.
The cabinet said it had sent ambulances and medics to the square to tend to protesters on hunger strike.
Among the key demands are an end to military trials of civilians, the redistribution of wealth and the open and speedy trials of former regime officials.
Protesters also want police accused of torturing and killing protesters — whether before or during the January 25 uprising — to be brought to justice.
In the canal city of Suez, hundreds of protesters chanted “Suez has toppled the Field Marshall (Hussein Tantawi),” referring to the country’s de facto ruler and Mubarak defence minister for two decades.
Hundreds also marched in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria, an AFP photographer reported.
The mounting tension has prompted both the government and the military council to offer some concessions in a bid to placate the protesters.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf ordered the sacking of senior police officers accused of abuse and Interior Minister Mansur Essawy announced a complete restructuring of his department.
On Wednesday, after a lengthy silence, the military council insisted it supported the revolution and said it would continue to support the goals of the revolution.
But the concessions fell flat with protesters, who labelled them as empty rhetoric.
“Our demands are the same but the conditions are different, since we reject the speeches of the prime minister and SCAF,” said Bola Abdou, 23, who was camping in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
“We want (our demands) taken into account, so we will stay in the square,” said Ibrahim Abul Kheir, 25, a member of the April 6 protest movement.
Some protesters have called for a march to leave from the square, but others feel that would leave those left behind vulnerable to attack by old regime loyalists or hired thugs.