TENS of thousands of flag-waving Egyptians massed into Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday to celebrate the fall of strongman Hosni Mubarak and to pressure the new military rulers to deliver on reform pledges.
Crowds swelled to over a million after Friday prayers in Tahrir Square – the focal point of anti-government protests that toppled Mubarak – where hundreds of military police in red berets were already positioned.
A military band in full dress uniform was playing patriotic music to the cheers of the crowd.
Activists ratcheted up pressure on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, that took power when Mubarak stepped down on February 11, by calling for a massive march in Cairo to commemorate the uprising’s martyrs and press for the release of detainees.
The Coalition of the Revolution Youth, which groups pro-democracy movements that helped launch the revolt, have called for the gathering to ‘remember the martyrs of freedom and dignity and justice’, after at least 365 were killed and 5,500 injured in the protests, according to the health ministry.
The coalition has vowed to keep up the pressure to ensure the rest of its political demands are met, including the ‘immediate release of all detainees,’ it said in a statement posted on Facebook.
Hundreds of people went missing during the protests, rights groups said, blaming the army, which they also accused of torture.
Gamal Eid, a lawyer who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said: ‘There are hundreds of detained, but information on their numbers is still not complete… The army was holding detainees.’
On Thursday, Amnesty International called on the Egyptian military to halt the use of torture against detainees, saying it had fresh evidence of abuse.
Both Amnesty and the New York-based Human Rights Watch said they interviewed former detainees who described being tortured by the military.
The coalition of activists is also calling for ‘a speedy replacement of the current caretaker cabinet by a government of technocrats’ that are not seen as corrupt, it said.
Pro-democracy activists are also seeking an investigation into the deaths during the uprising, a lifting of the decades-old emergency law, and support for the pay strikes that have surged around the country.
‘We are going today to commemorate the martyrs and in doing so we are awaiting justice,’ said Mohammed Waked, a protest organiser.
‘If those detained during the protests are not released, let alone the older political prisoners, it would be a bad sign,’ he said. ‘It would show the army is not sincere about political reforms.’
In Tahrir Square, taxi driver Farag Radwan who took the day off to celebrate, said he was following other revolts in the Arab world on television.
‘Why can’t we be united like Europe,’ he said. ‘The problem is with the presidents not the people.’
Activists who are also calling for a complete dismantling of Mubarak’s regime welcomed the arrest of reviled former interior minister Habib Al-Adly, whose security forces were given wide powers of arrest under the emergency law.
Al-Adly was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of money laundering and ordered held for 15 days.
And prosecutors ordered former tourism minister Zuheir Garana, former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi and businessman Ahmad Ezz also to be held for 15 days ‘to assist in an investigation’, a judicial source said.
Ezz, a steel magnate, was a member of the former ruling National Democratic Party. He was considered to be a mentor of Mubarak’s son Gamal, who was long considered a possible successor to his father.
Since Mubarak’s fall, Egyptian workers have tested the limits of their new-found freedom, staging pay strikes despite calls from the new military regime for them to return to work and warning of ‘disastrous’ consequences should strikes continue.
Workers are calling for the resignation of the leaders of state-controlled trade unions and company board members, who they accuse of corruption, as well as higher wages and better working conditions.
On Thursday, the United States gave Egypt, a key ally in the region, $150 million in crucial economic assistance to help transition towards democracy.
‘I am pleased to announce today that we will be reprogramming $150 million for Egypt to put ourselves in a position to support the transition there and assist with their economic recovery,’ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
• Libyan security forces killed at least 24 people in a violent crackdown on anti-regime demonstrations during a ‘Day of Anger’ against Colonel Gadaffi.
The New York-based rights group, Human Rights Watch citing witnesses, said 24 protesters were killed and scores injured during Thursday’s clashes in two Libyan cities.
‘The authorities should cease the use of lethal force unless absolutely necessary to protect lives and open an independent investigation into the lethal shootings,’ HRW said in a statement.
‘Seven protesters were killed in the demonstrations Thursday at Benghazi,’ the country’s second city, a local medical official who requested anonymity said, without giving further details.
The Gadaffi regime is secular and nationalist and has been in power since 1969.
It has reacted to the uprising in Benghazi by calling mass rallies in Tripoli and other cities at one of which which Gadaffi has appeared.
The Quryna newspaper, close to Gadaffi’s son Seif al-Islam, cited official sources as putting the death toll in Al-Baida at two. It traced the unrest to a police shutdown of local shops that soon escalated.
The newspaper said several cars were torched and cited a ‘well-informed security source’ as saying that a senior local security official had been sacked after the deaths in Al-Baida.
The Al Youm and Al-Manara websites reported ‘violent clashes’ in Benghazi, an opposition stronghold, adding that 35 people had been injured.
Libya Watch said at least four were killed when ‘security forces and militias of the Revolutionary Committees used live ammunition to disperse a peaceful demonstration at Al-Baida’.
The Revolutionary Committees, the backbone of Gadaffi’s government, have warned they will not allow anti-regime protesters to ‘plunder the achievements of the people and threaten the safety of citizens and the country’s stability’.
Ramadan Briki, chief editor of the Quryna newspaper in Benghazi, said gunfire rang out in several parts of the city on the third straight day of protests against Gadaffi.
‘It is the first time that we have heard shooting in the city,’ Briki said. ‘Given the difficulties, we are unable to know if there are fatalities or not.’
Lawyers demonstrated in front of a courthouse in Benghazi to demand a constitution for the country.
And in Zentan, southwest of Tripoli, Quryna said demonstrators had set fire to the police station, the city’s court, the posts of the internal security forces and the people’s guard, and offices of the Revolutionary Committees.
In Tripoli, tens of thousands attended a peaceful pro-Gadaffi rally in Green Square, near the capital’s waterfront.
They brandished banners proclaiming ‘Gadaffi, the father of the people’ and ‘The crowd supports the revolution and its leader.’
The state television showed showed similar pro-government rallies in Benghazi, Sirte and and other cities.
Troops in Libya’s second city Benghazi are reported to have killed at least 12 mourners who tried to storm a military barracks during mounting anti-regime protests, witnesses and reports said.
The mourners threw firebombs at the barracks and troops responded with live rounds in which ‘at least 12 people were killed and many more injured’, said Quryna chief editor Ramadan Briki, citing security sources.
The Libyan news agency Jana alleged that ‘certain Libyan cities have been the scene of acts of sabotage and destruction since Tuesday’.
Jana said that the suspects sought to ‘take arms from police stations and the military police and use them’.
The demonstrations have been largely confined to Libya’s east with the capital Tripoli quiet so far. But Al-Jazeera said thousands had protested peacefully in the western city of Misurata against state brutality.