Voters across Egypt were due to go to the polls today for the first democratic elections in over half a century, despite a political stand-off which could yet derail the country's emergence from decades of dictatorship.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the country's military ruler, yesterday warned of "extremely grave" consequences if the unrest which has ravaged Cairo was allowed to continue. That warning was aimed at thousands of protesters demanding the removal of the government, with some calling for a boycott of today's parliamentary poll.
Activists camping out in Tahrir Square want the generals who took power after the fall of Hosni Mubarak to step down immediately in favour of an interim civilian council. They say the transition to democracy is taking too long, and accuse the military of repressive tactics reminiscent of the Mubarak regime. But Mr Tantawi rejected the calls, and his warning came as tens of thousands of protesters again packed into Tahrir Square.
It was the ninth day of rallying, and came after nearly a week of nationwide unrest which has led to the deaths of 41 civilians and raised questions about why Egypt's Arab Spring revolution has soured to swiftly.
Mr Tantawi appeared intent on isolating the demonstrators, saying the government would "not allow troublemakers to meddle in the elections".