CAIRO — Egyptians responding to a call for a mass rally began flowing on to Tahrir Square Tuesday while fresh clashes broke out elsewhere in the Cairo as protests demanding the country's military rulers step down entered a fourth day.
Activists are hoping to increase the number of protesters in the square — which was the epicenter of the revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak in mid-February — with a demonstration to bolster popular support for a "second revolution" despite bloodshed that has left at least 29 people dead.
Security forces stayed away from the square since Monday to avoid confrontations after several failed efforts to clear the area in downtown Cairo turned violent. But clashes broke out in streets connecting Tahrir Square to police headquarters, with black-clad security forces backed by military troops firing volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets to block groups of angry young men, who responded by hurling stones and fire bombs.
The two sides have been engaged in intense clashes since the unrest began on Saturday with protesters trying to force out the generals who have failed to stabilize the country, salvage the economy or bring democracy more than nine months after taking the reins from Mubarak.
In many ways, the protests bear a striking resemblance to the 18-day uprising beginning Jan. 25 that toppled Mubarak. The chants are identical, except that military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi's name has replaced Mubarak's.
"The goal is to get rid of the government. They're still stealing and people can't eat," said protester Raed Said, 23, as he walked with an arm around his friend who was choking from the tear gas. "The field marshal has to leave because he's trying to protect Mubarak and doesn't want to try him, so he has to go."
Hundreds of protesters arrived early Tuesday to join several thousand who have been camping on Tahrir Square, sleeping in tents or on the grass rolled up in blankets despite efforts by police to clear the area. The crowds hoisted a giant Egyptian flag and chanted slogans demanding the generals immediately step down in favor of a presidential civilian council.
One man held a sign reading "ministry of thuggery" with photos of Mubarak, Tantawi, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and others. A few hundred young men nearby chanted "say it, don't fear, the council must go" and "the people want to execute the field marshal."
The rally, dubbed "Egypt's Salvation," came a day after Sharaf's civilian Cabinet submitted its resignation to the military council, a move that had been widely expected given the government's perceived inefficiency and its almost complete subordination to the generals. The ruling military council gave no word if the offer had been accepted, but regardless, it failed to satisfy the protesters.
"That was a game, like playing the joker in a game of cards. We want the military council to resign," said 60-year-old protester Mustafa Mursi, who wore a pair of goggles on his forehead with a gas mask and a laminated picture of his slain son around his neck.
Mursi, who has been at the square since the latest protests began on Saturday, said that his son Mohammed was shot in head on Jan. 28 during clashes with security forces in the earlier uprising.
"I'll stay until military rule ends and there is civilian rule," he said.
The clashes came few days before the country's first parliamentary elections since Mubarak was forced to step down. Fears were high that the turmoil would disrupt elections due to begin on Nov. 28.
Amnesty International harshly criticized the military rulers in a new report, saying they have "completely failed to live up their promises to Egyptians to improve human rights."
The London-based group documented steps by the military that have fallen short of increasing human rights and in some cases have made matters worse than under Mubarak.
"The euphoria of the uprising has been replaced by fears that one repressive rule has simply been replaced with another," according to the report, issued early Tuesday.
The report called for repeal of the Mubarak-era "emergency laws," expanded to cover "thuggery" and criticizing the military. It said the army has placed arbitrary restrictions on media and other outlets.
Egyptian security forces have continued to use torture against demonstrators, the report said, and some 12,000 civilians have been tried in military trials, which it called "unfair."
A military spokesman, meanwhile, told The Associated Press that the military has set up barbed wire and barricades around the security headquarters to prevent protesters from storming the building. "We are only here to protect the interior ministry," he said.1 comment on this story
The spokesman, who asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to release the information, also said army officers and soldiers had been forbidden to enter Tahrir Square.
In violence elsewhere, Egypt's state-TV reported that three people were killed overnight in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, east of Cairo, raising the overall death toll from the protests to 29.
The unrest also had an immediate impact on Egypt's economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism and had not fully recovered from the effect of the January revolution. The stock exchange temporarily suspended trading after the broader EGX100 index slumped 5 percent.