Protests continue in Egypt, massive tear gas use reported

Protests — and casualties, including deaths — have continued in Egypt today, as a decision was awaited from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on demands for an immediate transition to civilian rule.

Egyptian riot police are reportedly responsible for the worst violence, but .

A “million man” march was called for 4pm to protest police and military brutality against the demonstrators. At least 100,000 people were reported in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi was expected to speak at about the same time.

But, he began a meeting with Egyptian political parties…

His remarks were finally aired on Egyptian State TV three hours later, after 7pm.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Tantawi maintained that the Armed Forces “never killed a single Egyptian”, and he insisted that the Armed Forces are the main protectors of the people. But, he added, “the ability of the Ministry of Interior is improving”…

He said that although they never took a political position, and had no political ambitions, and treated all political parties equally, the Armed Forces had an important role to play, because the “interim situation is not safe … and the Egyptian economy is receding. The Armed Forces would therefore continue to maintain the state and ensure security while “we know that differences are there, and different positions”.

He said that he [“I”] had decided to accept the resignation of the present Prime Minister and his cabinet — but had asked them to stay on in their posts until a new government could be formed…

Tantawi observed that “the closer we come to elections, the more tensions are increasing — this we cannot understand”.

Only “at the end of this process will we hand over power to an elected civilian authority”, Tantawi said in his televised address.

A first round of parliamentary elections is due to be held in less than a week — on November 28, and Tantawi said that this schedule would be maintained.

While doubts have been expressed, the political parties are almost all agreed that elections should go ahead in six days, and U.S. government statements have supported that position.

In his statement today, Tantawi indicated for the first time that Presidential elections would be held by June 2012. That had been a main demand of demonstrators on Friday — but, as analysts noted, by today it seemed too late.

And, as the New York Times reported from Egypt, here, this “would also leave the civilian government reporting to the military — effectively a continuation of what amounts to martial law in civilian clothes — until next June”.

Tantawi said: “We are the Armed forces of Egypt who protect the people” — though, he said, “hidden powers are trying to cause a rift between the Armed Forces and the people, and between the people and the political factions”.

The 100,000 or so people in Tahrir Square listened intently. But, by the end of the speech, there were chants of “Irhal, Irhal, Irhal” — Get out! Go!

Afterwards, “there was no rush to the exits”, as Al-Jazeera English’s correspondent Sherine Tadrus reported from Tahrir Square. The crowd mainly stayed put, and there were hours of unprecedentedly intense barrages of tear gas.

But, in Alexandria — Egypt’s second largest city — the riot police were clashing with protesters even during Tantawi’s speech, and the clashes continued for hours.

The U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland strongly urged the Egyptian government to “exercise maximum restraint and discipline its forces, and protect the universial rights of all Egyptians to peacefully express themselves”. She said the U.S. was “looking forward to the naming of a new Egyptian government” whose “first responsibility will obviously be to organize and ensure free and fair elections” to ensure a transfer to democracy — does that mean within the next few days?

Meanwhile, three Americans who were identified as students at the American University in Cairo [AUC] were detained by the Ministry of Interior, which accused them of attacking Egyptian security forces from the roof of one of the AUC buildings near Tahrir Square.

Egyptian editor and journalist Mona Anis of Al-Ahram tweeted a link to a Facebook page maintained by Egypt’s Ministry of Interior here, which published a photo of the three looking scared. Two of them were holding plastic bottles, and two of those bottles containing a clear yellowish liquid [that looked like kerosene or gasoline, as if they were molotov cocktails]:

Photo posted on Facebook page of Egypt's Ministry of Interior on 22 Nov 2011

According to the Washington Post, the three “were accused on state-controlled television of participating in the violent demonstrations that are posing the greatest threat to Egypt’s military leaders since the ouster of Mubarak. A university [AUC] spokeswoman identified the three as Derrik Sweeney, 19, a student at Georgetown University who is from Jefferson City, Mo.; Luke Gates, 21, an exchange student from Bloomington, Ind., who attends Indiana University; and Gregory Porter, 19, of Glenside, Pa., and Drexel University”. This is posted here.

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