Egyptian Protesters Again Converge On Tahrir Square

Protesters are again piling into Cairo's Tahrir Square after a weekend of violence that left at least two dozen dead and more than a thousand wounded. Just a week ahead of parliamentary elections, the protesters are demanding the fall of the ruling military council.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. It has become the biggest challenge yet to Egypt's military rulers. In Cairo tonight, Tahrir Square is once again packed with protesters. Throughout the day, thousands of young activists threw stones and chunks of pavement at heavily armed riot police. The police tried to force them back with tear gas, rubber bullets and billy clubs.

BLOCK: On this third day of clashes, the death toll climbed to more than two dozen. At least 2,000 people have been wounded. And as more protesters flooded into Tahrir Square, Egypt's interim government submitted its resignation to the Supreme Military Council. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has been watching it all from Cairo.

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SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Dozen of ambulances sent by the government health ministry and nearby hospitals edge slowly through the throngs of protesters to ferry the injured away from Tahrir Square.

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NELSON: But emergency workers can't keep up with the flow of patients wounded by the steady hail of tear gas and rubber bullets fired by the Egyptian security forces. Trauma surgeon Seif Khirfan is one of many weary volunteers at a makeshift hospital outside the square.

SEIF KHIRFAN: I'm really surprised, people that we are treating are running back to the frontlines to defend the square. And the thing is no one wants to really attack. They try to defend the square, but they're being attacked by the police, so they chase the police back to the interior ministry, and it's like a cat and mouse chase.

NELSON: The doctor says what's especially troubling is that neither the police nor the military are trying to talk to protesters to defuse the situation. That's something Egyptian soldiers did during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak last January, and led to many protesters embracing the military as interim rulers until a new civilian government could be elected. But as the ruling military council's planned handover of power keeps being delayed, and as it clamps down harshly on dissent, a growing number of Egyptians believe it's time to drive out the generals just as they drove out Mubarak.

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NELSON: The chants and slogans once directed at Mubarak are now all aimed at Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his generals. Protesters at Tahrir Square now appear as determined as they were in January to hold their ground no matter what the price.

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NELSON: In a show of support, hundreds of university students marched from campuses across Cairo to join the crowd in Tahrir Square.

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NELSON: 19-year-old Mena Amr, who wore a Superman sweatshirt and gas mask, says she joined the protests after seeing the escalating violence on television.

MENA AMR: We definitely did not see this coming. We thought they're the army, they're supposed to protect us. They're not supposed to harm us.

NELSON: A statement from the military rulers expressed regret over the deaths and injuries. It also urged protesters to go home. The interim government appointed by the military accused protesters of trying to sabotage parliamentary elections that are scheduled to begin next Monday.

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NELSON: At an afternoon news conference, the leaders of about two dozen political parties dismissed such allegations as nonsense. They said they want the vote to proceed because they see it as the quickest way of assuring transition to civilian rule. That didn't sit well with one heckler.

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NELSON: He stood up and shouted at the leaders that no elections should be held while the military is still in charge. Hours later, the entire Egyptian Cabinet resigned. But it's unlikely that move, even if it's accepted by the ruling military council, will be enough to convince protesters to go home. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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