Egyptian Protesters Gather For 'Day Of Departure'

Tens of thousands of protesters have gathered again in Cairo's Liberation Square demanding that President Hosni Mubarak leave office immediately. Egyptian army troops are guarding the square. The military has said repeatedly that it will not open fire on the protesters, but there are fears of more attacks by Mubarak supporters.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Tens of thousands of protestors have gathered again in Cairo's Liberation Square, demanding that President Hosni Mubarak leave office immediately. Egyptian army troops are guarding the square and Egypt's Defense Minister visited the scene earlier this morning. Soldiers have been far more visible today, checking those coming in to the square and generally protecting protestors, so far. Clashes between anti- and pro-government demonstrators over the last two days left hundreds wounded and at least 10 dead.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in the square and she joined us by cell phone.

And, Lourdes, what is the scene there now? Pretty amazing, people pouring out of that square - it's so full.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes, Renee. People are coming into square in very large numbers. We've seen thousands of people converge on Tahrir Square. This has been billed as a Day of Departure. They're saying this is day, the Muslim holy day where they will be praying shortly. And they're saying this is the last moments for Hosni Mubarak - they hope.

It's actually an amazing scene. Over the past few days, with these clashes, we've seen the protestors here begin to organize fairly substantially. I'm just walking around here. In one area there's a catapult that they've sort of made. In another area, there's a sort of - they're using it as an armory. They're just smashing rocks and putting them into containers so that they'll have stuff ready, in case clashes break out again.

And to get into the square, you literally have to go through at least 10 checks. They pat you down. They check your I.D. These are the protestors themselves organizing that and they're very, very thorough. They do not want people coming into the square with any kind of weaponry. They're very serious about saying that they believe that they want their protest to be peaceful. They will only respond if attacked.

MONTAGNE: And what about the Army? What are the soldiers doing differently today?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what we - I mean I'm standing right now in front of an armored personnel carrier that is stationed right in front of the Egyptian Museum, where most of the clashes over the past few days have taken place. And we've seen a much more robust army presence here.

In front of the sort of the frontlines around Tahrir Square, we've seen barbed wire and armed soldiers essentially standing guard in much greater numbers than we've seen in the past few days.

You know, the army has been a wild card. The protestors here, at a certain moment, have felt that they are with them. And then they felt that they were against them. Today, it seems that they are keeping the peace, at least for now. But we have not seen any pro-Mubarak protestors coming here yet. There has not been any violence in Tahrir Square today.

MONTAGNE: And we all seem to be watching Tahrir or Liberation Square, but what's going on in the rest of the city?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, of course, this can give you a skewed image of what is happening in the rest of Cairo. In the rest of the city, there are people who legitimately support the president, Hosni Mubarak. They're calling this A Day of Loyalty. We've heard reports that they are gathering at mosques in other parts of town, and they are trying to show their support for the government.

People here legitimately are worried about what will come after Hosni Mubarak. There are fears of the Muslim Brotherhood. They feel that they might try and capitalize on this, and try and make this an Islamist regime. There also just fears of general instability, specifically among the Coptic Christians. They feel that Hosni Mubarak kept the peace and allowed them to flourish here up to a certain point, and they're worried about what will come next after he is gone.

MONTAGNE: Now, is there any sense of what is going on behind the scenes? I mean your there out on the square, but we're hearing about efforts to persuade Mubarak to give up power soon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed, we are also hearing those reports. I was at the opposition leader, Mohamed elBaradei's house yesterday. And you would see various, different envoys from the European embassies arriving and leaving. There are definitely negotiations going on here. The Americans putting a great deal of pressure, we understand, on the Hosni Mubarak government to step down, and the European Union, as well.

You know, the statements coming out of Europe and the United States have really hardened over the past few days, especially in light of all the attacks, seemingly orchestrated - at least in part - by the government, on the citizens of their countries.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro speaking to us from Liberation Square in Cairo, thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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