CAIRO, (Reuters) – A few hundred protesters defied an army demand to quit Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday, vowing to stay until Egypt’s ruling military council heeds their demand for civilian rule and a deeper purge of corrupt officials.
The mostly young demonstrators, some of them unemployed, have blocked roads to the square with barbed wire since Friday, when hundreds of thousands gathered for one of the biggest demonstrations since president Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
The army has kept its distance since a failed attempt to remove the remainder of the protesters on Friday night.
Rights campaigners accused the military of using excessive force against peaceful protesters during the attempt.
There was little to suggest the army was preparing a new incursion to take back control of the sprawling square on Monday morning.
A hard core of protesters says the army is colluding with remnants of Mubarak’s network and thwarting popular demands for more of his lieutenants to face trial.
At the square, the focus of the 18-day revolt that ended Mubarak’s three-decade rule, protesters stood holding Egyptian flags. Street vendors cooked sweet potatoes on wooden trolleys and workers in suits strolled through on their way to offices.
The site was strewn with piles of garbage and the shells of army trucks torched during the latest protests.
“The challenge is keeping the square occupied with protesters from now till Friday. Opposition forces have said they will rally in Tahrir this Friday, so we are not worried,” said Ismail Ahmed, a protester and activist.
About 20 military police approached one entrance to the square and demanded the protesters leave.
Their call went unheeded. The protesters said their numbers would grow throughout the day as activists encourage students at university campuses to join them in the square.
“We expect thugs to slip into the square and break up our ranks. So we must be vigilant,” said another protester, Mohamed Fahmy.
A coalition of nine Egyptian human rights groups condemned what it called the military’s use of live ammunition against protesters in Tahrir at the weekend, describing the events as “a dangerous precedent” that cannot pass without an immediate investigation.
The army, which has enjoyed broad popular support since it took power and promised free and fair elections, said it did not fire live ammunition at the demonstrators.