CAIRO - Tens of thousands of Egyptian anti-regime protesters are gathered at Cairo's Tahrir Sqaure in a resumption of demonstrations. They are chanting, "Leave, leave!" in what promises to be a massive demonstration to force Egypt's ruling military council to yield power.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene says pro-reform leader and Nobel peace laureate Mohamed El-Baradei has arrived in the square and is expected to join the prayers.
The grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, addressed the crowds in a show of support for the protest.
The Higher Military Council has vowed to hold parliament elections next week as scheduled, however the protesters have rejected the appointment of former Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri as the new "national salvation" government head. They are planning to hold a "million-man march" later on Friday.
The protesters called on the public to take to the streets on "last chance Friday" in demand of a national civilian emergency government.
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On Thursday, Ganzouri accepted a request from the ruling generals to form a new government. Ganzouli served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and carried out a number of financial reforms. While many Egyptians regard Ganzouli as an honest politician, the fact that he had served under deposed President Hosni Mubarak may stir up opposition from those who demand that the new government be free of any ties to the old regime.
Thousands in Tahrir Square (Photo: AP)
Meanwhile, the Obama administration voiced fresh support Friday for restive Egyptians demanding a smoother, speedier transition to democracy following President Hosni Mubarak's fall from power earlier this year.
"The United States will continue to stand with the Egyptian people as they build a democracy worthy of Egypt's great history," the White House said in a statement.
Selling t-shirts in Tahrir Square (Photo: AP)
In its statement, the White House said: "The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately."
Several rallies are scheduled to take place after Friday noon prayers: the Muslim Brotherhood will demonstrate "for Jerusalem," the anti-regime protesters will rally in Tahrir Square and the ruling military council will organize a support rally on behalf of the "silent majority movement." Nevertheless, the military asked its supporters to cancel the protest on Thursday fearing only few will turn up.
Protesters opposite soldiers in Tahrir Square (Photo: EPA)
The independent workers union federation will also take part in the Tahrir Square protest.
Protesters in Tahrir, seething over the military's perceived failings over the past nine months, said Thursday they will not leave the iconic plaza until the generals step down in favor of a civilian presidential council, a show of resolve similar to that which forced Mubarak to give up power in February after nearly three decades.
Protester near military barricade (Photo: EPA)
The Square was quieter Thursday after five days of intense clashes. Police and protesters agreed to a truce negotiated by Muslim clerics at the scene. At the same time, soldiers built barricades from metal bars and barbed wire to separate the protesters and the police on streets-turned-battlefields leading from Tahrir to the nearby Interior Ministry.
Protesters formed a series of human chains on the those streets to prevent anyone from violating the truce or approaching flashpoint areas close to the police lines. The truce came into force around 6 am and was holding by nightfall.
Another rally scheduled for Friday will be held under the banner "Save al-Aqsa Friday" marking the November 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. Protesters will demand an end to the "Judaisation of Jerusalem". One of the world's leading Islamist clerics Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi is slated to take part in the rally.
A similar protest will also be held in Jordan after Friday prayers. The rally will take place near the Israeli border and will be attended by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Other rallies will also be held across the country.
Eldad Beck is Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent in Cairo
Associated Press contributed to the report
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