Via Al Jazeera
More than hundred thousand assemble in Cairo for the “million-man-march” aimed at forcing president Mubarak to resign.
More than 100,000 protesters have gathered for a planned “march of a million” in the Egyptian capital, calling for Hosni Mubarak, the embattled Egyptian president, to step down.
Thousands of demonstrators began gathering from early on Tuesday morning in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which has been the focal point of protests in the capital and served as the meeting area for the march to begin on the eighth day of an uprising that has so far claimed more than 125 lives.
Another “million-strong” march is planned in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, as national train services were cancelled in an apparent bid to stymie protests. Protest organisers have also called for an indefinite strike to be observed across the country.
Reporting from Cairo, an Al Jazeera correspondent reported that tens of thousands of people were gathering in Tahrir Square on Tuesday morning.
“The square is absolutely packed, there is hardly standing room for people. Tens of thousands of people are still streaming towards the square,” she said.
“The mood and atmosphere is incredible.”
Our correspondent said the army was “facilitating” the protests.
Soldiers at Tahrir Square have formed a human chain around protesters, and are checking people as they enter for weapons. Tanks have been positioned near the square, and officers have been checking identity papers.
“There was a long queue, but it was extremely orderly,” reported Al Jazeera’s online producer, who was in Tahrir Square.
“After the army checkpoint there was a civilian checkpoint”, manned by ordinary people who were checking bags, he said.
He said there were no indications that anyone had attempted to disrupt the protests.
“You certainly get the feeling that the organisers will get the numbers that they want. The word is out there, despite the fact that the internet is still down,” our correspondent said.
“But all groups, young, old, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims they are all heading [to Tahrir Square].”
Our correspondent said that there were reports that “thugs in certain parts of the city have been trying to stop people from driving into Cairo”.
She said that “increasingly large pockets of pro-government protests” are also taking place at various locations in the city. There are fears that if the two sets of protesters meet, a violent clash could erupt.
Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist who planned to attend the rally, told Al Jazeera the protesters will not be satisfied until Mubarak steps down.
“I think today there will be great numbers on the street … every day there are more numbers on the street than the day before. I think the protests are gaining momentum. The people … will literally not leave until Mubarak steps down,” she said.
On the increasing clampdown on the internet, Al Jazeera’s online producer reported: “For the most part, the internet is irrelevant to the protesters. It’s just been mobile phones since the mobile phone blackout stopped a couple of days ago.
“The thrust of the [protesters’] message is: ‘Mubarak still has to go’ … that’s the bottom line from everyone we’ve spoken to.
While protesters may not reach the million-man figure, which would represent almost a tenth of the population of the city, our producer said the protest will likely “be the largest that we’ve seen” since the unrest began last week.
Egyptian state television has asked people to stay at home, warning of possible violence.
Our producer said that if today’s protest does not go as planned, similar protests could be planned for Friday.
Another correspondent reported that the army was setting up several checkpoints near the presidential palace in the suburb of Heliopolis, the destination of the march.
She said that soldiers appeared to be very clear in their mission to stop protesters from “even approaching the presidential palace”.
The new protests come as the police have returned to the streets.
But while the police’s posture to be adopted in the face of the strike and marches remains unknown, the Egyptian army stated clearly on Monday that it would not stop protests
Faced with the prospect of massive numbers trying to converge on the capital, Egyptian authorities stopped all train traffic with immediate effect on Monday afternoon, and the state-owned national carrier EgyptAir said it was cancelling all international and domestic flights during curfew hours (3.00pm to 8.00am local time).
In a statement on Monday, the army said “freedom of expression” was guaranteed to all citizens using peaceful means.
“To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people,” stress that “they have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people,” said the statement.
It was the first such explicit confirmation by the army that it would not fire at demonstrators who have taken to the streets of Egypt and comes a day before Tuesday’s “march of millions”.
“The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and well-being. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people.
“Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody.” the army statement said.
It urged people not to resort to acts of sabotage that violate security and destroy public and private property. It warned that it would not allow outlaws to loot, attack and “terrorise citizens”.
The call for the “million-man-march” from the so-called April 6 movement has come as Mubarak swore in a new cabinet on Monday, in an attempt to defuse ongoing demonstrations across the country.
The opposition parties have called for Mubarak to delegate responsibilities to newly appointed vice-president Omar Suleiman, who they are prepared to negotiate with.
Panic and chaos
On Tuesday, even as Egypt continued to face economic turmoil as a result of protests, the International Monetary Fund said it was ready to put in a place an economic rebuilding policy for the country.
“The IMF is ready to help in defining the kind of economic policy that could be put in place,” IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said.
Meanwhile, chaos has been reported at Cairo’s international airport, where thousands of foreigners are attempting to be evacuated by their home countries.
Our correspondent reported on Tuesday that about 1,000 US citizens have been evacuated to Cyprus or Turkey, from where they are expected to make their own way home.
She also said that China is sending two additional planes to evacuate its citizens.