CAIRO - Protesters demanding President Hosni Mubarak's ouster packed Cairo's central square in huge numbers Friday, waving Egyptian flags, singing the national anthem and cheering, appearing undaunted and determined after their camp withstood two days of street battles with regime supporters trying to dislodge them.
Thousands more flowed over bridges across the Nile into Tahrir Square, a sign that they were not intimidated after fending off everything thrown at the protesters by pro-Mubarak attackers – stones, firebombs, fighters on horses and camels and automatic gunfire.
The Al-Jazeera network reported that a total of over 2 million people were protesting in Cairo and Alexandria. The network also said that anonymous vandals broke into its offices in Cairo and destroyed equipment.
Earlier this week, Egyptian authorities put a stop to the network's operations in the country and revoked its journalists' work permits.
The protesters passed through a series of beefed-up checkpoints by the military and the protesters themselves guarding the square.
The crowd, well over 10,000, was the biggest since Tuesday, when a quarter-million turned out. They chanted, prayed and unfurled a long banner in the national colors of red, black and white. A man sitting in a wheelchair was lifted – wheelchair and all – over the heads of the crowd and he pumped his arms in the air.
Protesters labeled the rally the "day of departure," a reference to their demand Mubarak go on Friday.
No there was almost no sign of Mubarak's supporters, who attacked demonstrators with stones and Molotov cocktails in recent days, and the atmosphere was completely different.
Protesting against president (Photo: AFP)
Long queues were seen next to people handing out tea and bread. The past week recorded a food shortage, but many of Friday's protestors arrived at the square after shopping for bread, water, fruit and other commodities, likely leading to the relative calm. Portable clinics were set up in the square, and a KFC restaurant was used to attend to the injured.
Egyptian Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi and senior army officials visited the square Friday morning and soldiers were checking IDs and performing body searches at its entrances, a sign that Egypt's most powerful institution was sanctioning the demonstration.
Ynet's correspondent to Cairo was arrested by soldiers wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests next to the national museum. The troops refused to let the journalists reach the square. "Go back to the hotel, and only there," one of them said.
Hotel staff were instructed by the authorities not to let cameras into the rooms, making its difficult for foreign reporters to cover the protests.
Elior Levy contributed to this report
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