CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian activists vowed on Sunday to stay camped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, accusing the army rulers of failing to sweep out corruption, end the use of military courts and swiftly try those who killed protesters.
Anger has been rising against what many Egyptians see as the reluctance of the military council to deliver on the demands of protesters who ousted Hosni Mubarak in February. They include speeding up the pace of Mubarak’s trial over the killings of demonstrators, which is scheduled to start on August 3.
A speech by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Saturday that promised action but was thin on detail only stoked frustrations.
One speaker in Tahrir, the symbolic center of the revolt that toppled Mubarak, said Sharaf deserved a “red card,” the soccer term for being sent off the field. Youth groups on Facebook called for action to be stepped up this week.
Sharaf met a delegation from the protesters to discuss their demands, his office said in a statement posted on its Facebook page. “The group renewed its confidence in the person of Essam Sharaf and asserted their desire for a change that will achieve the goals of the revolution,” it said.
Analysts said the army-appointed government needed to act quickly if it wanted to avoid a further escalation, even if some of the aspirations for change were unreasonably high.
The Public Prosecution office, in what appeared to be an attempt to placate protesters, posted a list of the legal measures it had taken against senior officials of the Interior Ministry accused of killing protesters, including trial dates.
An Egyptian judge said on Sunday that new criminal cases would be deferred to other courts to free up judges reviewing cases linked to corruption and the death of protesters, in line with Sharaf’s call to expedite protester demands.
Protesters blocked the main roads to Tahrir Square, set up barricades and pinned a banner reading “civil disobedience until further notice” outside the vast ‘Mogamma’ administrative building.
Thousands stayed late into Sunday night, talking politics in makeshift tents or crowding around stages where activists read political poetry and musicians played guitars and violins.
“We were waiting for Essam Sharaf to come down to the square,” said hotel chef Ahmed Mohamed, 27. “He is a man of principle but has a weak personality. We now want him to leave.”
Hundreds more gathered in front of a government office in the city of Zakazik northeast of Cairo to demand a “cleansing” of the Interior Ministry and swift justice for dead protesters.
A nucleus of protesters have stayed since a mass rally on Friday dubbed “Revolution First” that demanded swifter reforms. Some chanted for Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi to go.
Tantawi, who now leads the military council in charge of Egypt, was Mubarak’s defense minister for two decades. The army has pledged to hand power to civilians soon and has scheduled parliamentary elections for September.
“The entire military council served Mubarak and the entire Cabinet is nothing but the remnants of his regime,” a longtime critic of the former president, Abdel Hamid Qandil, said.
‘EMOTIONS ARE RISING’
After Sharaf’s speech, the Revolution Youth Coalition called for speeding up trials, hiking the minimum wage, stopping trials of civilians in military courts and reforming the Interior Ministry, criticized by Egyptians for the rough manner in which police handled protests during and since the uprising.
“People’s emotions are rising, especially over the issue of retribution for the killers (of protesters). ... There is no patience, especially because the people know the killers, saw them and reported them,” said Adel Soliman, executive director of the International Center for Future and Strategic Studies.
More than 100 political groups warned they reserved the right “to use all legitimate methods to push for achieving their demands, foremost of which a general strike, civil disobedience.”
The prime minister has come in for increasingly tough criticism. His appointment in March was initially welcomed as the former minister had joined protesters in Tahrir even when Mubarak was still in office. Now, activists say he has failed to act firmly as a mediator between protesters and the army.
Additional reporting by Shaimaa Fayed and Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Peter Cooney