Wary Truce Holds In Egypt, As Military Council Apologizes

In Egypt, intense clashes between protesters and security forces overnight raised the death toll from recent violence to at least 40. But both sides appear to be observing a truce this morning, as the country prepares for elections next week. Tens of thousands of Egyptians have been protesting since last Friday, demanding the ruling military council step aside — something the council rejected Thursday.

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And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

In Egypt, intense clashes between protesters and security forces overnight raised the death toll from recent violence to at least 40. But both sides appear to be observing a truce this morning, as the country prepares elections next week. Tens of thousands of Egyptians have been protesting since last Friday, demanding the ruling military council step aside, which they said, today, they will not do.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. We join her now. Good morning, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So, how did this truce come about?

NELSON: Well, there were Muslim clerics who apparently negotiated with the security forces – basically we're talking about police in riot gear – and with young protestors, mostly young males, who have been clashing for the past five days. The fighting was very intense overnight, with most teargas canisters that I've heard being lobbed, were lobbed last night, and at least part of the square was very much filled with teargas. I should note that the clashes have been occurring on a side street next to the square.

And so, what happened, basically, is that six AM this morning, they decided to do a ceasefire, if you will, and the protestors, or volunteers, are holding hands, sort of forming a human cordon, if you will, preventing people from entering that street. And the mood has quite changed in Tahrir. People are still chanting against the military, but it's much more festive and there is no teargas anywhere to be found.

WERTHEIMER: So, what does the military council say about what happened?

NELSON: Well, at a news conference today, they gave an unprecedented apology. They promised compensation to the victims and their families. They promised medical care for those who were wounded. And they said they would fully prosecute anyone who was responsible for causing these injuries and deaths. They also talked about human rights violations, and that they would be pursuing those, to figure out, you know, who had committed those and would, again, prosecute them to the full extent of the law. And they said that it's important that the people be united, and that there's no reason why the military or the security forces should ever point a gun at an Egyptian, that their role there is to protect Egyptian citizens.

WERTHEIMER: And what is the reaction, in the square, to that?

NELSON: Well, people are much more relaxed, but they're still very angry with the ruling military council. They want these generals to step aside and to hand over power now. That is satisfaction they're not going to get, as the generals, today, at a news conference, reiterated that they will stay there until a parliament is elected and until a president is elected.

WERTHEIMER: And the parliamentary elections, are those still scheduled for Monday?

NELSON: Yes. The ruling generals and other government officials, as well as the judicial authorities who are on an independent commission overseeing the elections, say those elections will proceed on Monday. In fact, they're so determined to make this vote happen, that they are going to fine Egyptians who are registered to vote and then don't cast ballots. The equivalent of about $90 in fines. And that is a very high amount, especially for most Egyptians, who are quite impoverished.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. Thank you very much.

NELSON: You're welcome.

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