Thousands of protesters flocked to Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square on Friday for a mass rally billed as “Correcting the Path” of the revolution for demanding reforms as the ruling military warned it would respond harshly to any violence by activists.
Organizers called the rally to press Egypt’s military rulers to keep their promises of reform after a revolt ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.
Protesters, gathered under a scorching sun, filled a section of the square to listen to the weekly Muslim prayer sermon, according to AFP.
Egyptian TV reported that hundreds of protesters attacked the premises of the interior minister, in an attempt to break into the building. A health ministry spokesman said that 35 people have been injured.
Protesters managed to break the big logo of the interior ministry at its entrance. Fire soon broke up in the Criminal Investigations Department affiliated to the ministry's building, but firefighters were able to put it off shortly.
“It would be shame on the Egyptian people if they forget their revolution,” the preacher said.
He attacked some of the prosecution witnesses in the ongoing murder trial of Mubarak and his security chiefs for testifying in court this week that they had not been ordered to use deadly force against protesters during the revolt.
“They must be charged with false testimony. How can a prosecution witness turn into a defense witness?” the cleric asked.
The preacher also denounced military trials for civilians. The military, which took charge after Mubarak's ouster, has sentenced thousands of people to prison terms since February.
Protesters chanted slogans against the military ruler and current de facto head of the state Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi after the sermon ended.
One banner read, “Egyptians, come out of your homes, Tantawi is Mubarak,” according to The Associated Press.
Protester Khaled Abdel-Hamid said Tantawi’s plan to transfer power to civilian rule is unclear. He and thousands more are also protesting against the trials of civilians in military courts.
Ibrahim Ali, an agricultural engineer, said he had come to the capital from northern Egypt to attend the rally, according to AFP.
“None of the revolution's demands have been met,” he said. “There is still injustice in the country.”
The military, in a statement posted on its Facebook page, said it respected the activists’ right to protest peacefully, but warned it would respond to violence by the protesters with “the utmost severity and decisiveness.”
The interior ministry said it had withdrawn riot police stationed in Tahrir Square to allow the activists to protest unhindered, the official MENA news agency reported.
The protest was called by mostly secular and leftist activists, and is being boycotted by the influential Muslim Brotherhood movement and other Islamist groups.
Mohsen Rady, a senior Brotherhood member, told state television his movement, which is showing growing strains with the military, believed Egyptians were weary of protests.
“People have grown bored of these demonstrations,” he said.
Secular activists are concerned that the military’s current timetable for parliamentary elections in autumn will play into the hands of the Brotherhood by denying new political movements the time to organize into parties.
The activists are also demanding an end to the military trials of civilians.
The Democratic Front party, set up by activists who ousted Mubarak after the uprising, said it will demand that Egypt’s military rulers prepare a “comprehensive timetable that will spell out the steps for the interim period, starting with the presidential elections.”
Presidential hopeful Mohammed ElBaradei, former head of the international atomic watchdog the IAEA, said Egyptians were entitled to demonstrate peacefully, especially since many of their demands have yet to be realized.
But Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, secretary-general of the Freedom and Justice Party set up by the Muslim Brotherhood to contest parliamentary elections scheduled for November, suggested it was not yet time for further demonstrations because previous protests had already brought some results.
“In case they are not achieved, then we return to the square,” he said.
Protests were also organized in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, and in the Suez Canal city of Suez. Witnesses said military police detained three activists during a demonstration in the city, according to Reuters.
In Alexandria, thousands of protesters chanted “The trial, the trial or the gang will stay in power.”
One of the protesters, Hazem Ahmed, 26, a member of Egypt’s Democratic Front party said: “I joined the protest today because of the slow pace of the trials and it being not serious.”