Protesters again fill Tahrir Square for 'Day of Departure' rally
Friday, February 4, 2011; 6:20 AM
CAIRO - Tahrir Square filled again with vast crowds of anti-government demonstrators Friday morning, ahead of a massive protest planned to demand the immediate ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
A day after authorities launched an aggressive clampdown on foreign journalists and human rights activists observing the demonstrations, Friday's gathering was calm and orderly, without the beatings and bloodshed that had horrified the world the day before.
After standing in long lines to pass through security checkpoints, thousands upon thousands of Egyptians entered the vast, open square and performed the weekly Friday prayers, kneeling and prostrating themselves in accordance with the muezzin's call. Nearby, soldiers on duty kept watch.
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said late Thursday that Egypt's interior minister should not disrupt Friday's protests, which organizers have dubbed the "Day of Departure" in hopes that on the 11th day, finally, they would succeed in compelling Mubarak to leave.
Also Thursday, the government sought to shift the blame for the violence that has swept the capital, and said it was willing to talk with the Muslim Brotherhood, , Egypt's oldest and best-organized opposition group.
Muslim Brother leader Mohamed Bradie told Al Jazeera television that his group would join transition talks -- but only after the departure of Mubarak.
In an interview Thursday, Mubarak told ABC that he had told President Obama: "You don't understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now."
Omar Suleiman, Egypt's new vice president, suggested that the continuing clashes between Mubarak's supporters and his critics had been instigated by people pursuing a "special agenda" - perhaps from abroad, perhaps from certain business interests, perhaps from the Muslim Brotherhood. "They can be intermingled and interlinked," Suleiman said.
Vice President Biden later telephoned Suleiman, the White House said, to stress that "the Egyptian government is responsible for ensuring that peaceful demonstrations don't lead to violence and intimidation."
The White House also said Egypt would be accountable "for allowing journalists and human rights advocates to conduct their important work, including immediately releasing those who have been detained."
In what the U.S. State Department called a "concerted campaign to intimidate," several dozen journalists were rounded up by security forces and detained for hours Thursday, along with foreigners working as teachers, engineers and human rights researchers. Across the city, angry bands of Mubarak supporters also beat journalists; several reporters said that they were threatened with death.
In his phone call with Suleiman, Biden repeated the administration's call for a transition government, formed of elements of the Mubarak regime - if not Mubarak himself - and representatives of leading opposition groups, with the Egyptian army playing a central role as guarantors.