The Jerusalem Post

Thousands gather ahead of planned ‘Million Man March’ in Cairo; Army announces it won’t use force against demonstrators; VP Suleiman promises to begin dialogue for reforms.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Thursday, for a planned “million man march” in Cairo. 

A coalition of opposition groups called for a million people to march through Cairo on the eighth day of protests, and the fifth day without internet. The Egyptian government also reportedly canceled national train services in order to prevent protesters from reaching the capital city.

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An Al Jazeera correspondent estimated that 5,000 demonstrators arrived at Tahrir Square in the early hours of the morning, reporting that “the numbers [of demonstrators] are certainly larger than we’ve seen over the last couple days. A lot of people I’ve spoken to have said they will be attending,” she said, “despite reports that there is the possiblity that it could turn violent.”

“The word is out, despite the fact that the internet is still down, that people need to attend this march of a million,” the Al Jazeera reporter said. “All groups, young, old, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims – they are all heading [to Tahrir Square].”

Another gathering of a million people is set to take place in Alexandria.

On Monday, a coalition of opposition groups called for a Million Man March to demand the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, in the clearest sign yet that a unified leadership might be emerging for the powerful but disparate protest movement.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt

A group of about 30 opposition representatives agreed to work together to call for a march on Tuesday. The different groups plan to finalize and announce a list of demands, and decide whether to make Mohammed ElBaradei, a prominent advocate of reform, the spokesman for the protesters.

The Egyptian military said on Monday night it recognized “the legitimacy of the people’s demands” and promised to guarantee “freedom of expression” ahead of the planned escalation of the country’s week-old anti-government protests.

A military spokesman, Ismail Etman, appeared on state TV saying the army “has not and will not use force” against protesters, although he urged them not to commit acts that harm security or damage property, and did not specify whether the military considered the demands for Mubarak’s removal legitimate.

The statement was the strongest indication to date that the military would allow the protests to continue and even grow, as long as they are peaceful.

In an apparent attempt to defuse the weeklong political upheaval, Mubarak named a new government on Monday – dropping his interior minister, who is in charge of security forces and whom protesters have denounced for the brutality of police. But the lineup was greeted with scorn in Tahrir (Liberation) Square, with crowds of more than 10,000 chanting for Mubarak’s ouster.

Mubarak’s naming of a new cabinet appeared to be aimed at showing the regime is willing to an extent to listen to the popular anger. The most significant change was the replacement of Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, who headed internal security forces. A retired police general, Mahmoud Wagdi, will replace him.

Another concession came later Monday night, when Vice President Omar Suleiman – who was appointed by Mubarak only two days earlier – went on state TV to announce that the president had tasked him to immediately begin dialogue with “political forces” for constitutional and legislative reforms.

Suleiman, a longtime Mubarak confidant, did not say what the changes would entail or which groups the government would speak with. Opposition forces have long demanded a lifting of strict restrictions on who is eligible to run for president, to allow a real challenge to the ruling party, as well as measures to ensure elections are fair. A presidential election is scheduled for September.

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