'The new Berlin': troops man Cairo barricade

Military builds 7ft wall to stop protesters 'betraying' Egypt

Cairo

In a stark illustration of the divide which now separates Cairo's demonstrators from the Military Council, the Egyptian army yesterday erected a 7ft-high breezeblock wall on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the road leading off Tahrir Square which has seen the worst of the violence that has claimed dozens of lives this week.

"Cairo has become Berlin," joked a protester, Ibrahim Abdul Ghani, as he looked at the wall, which blocks one of the main access routes to the Interior Ministry. Troops manning another main road leading to the ministry set up steel barriers and coils of barbed wire, suggesting the military is intent on defusing the prolonged street clashes which have threatened to derail the elections.

But in a press conference yesterday members of the Military Council did little to calm the protesters, rejecting a key demand of those camped out in Tahrir Square by saying that an immediate handover to civilian rule would represent a "betrayal" of the country. Justifying the wall, they said they would not allow the ministry to be threatened.

The nation's leaders also said there would be no delay in the parliamentary elections scheduled to start on Monday – despite nearly a week of continuous rioting which has claimed dozens of lives.

"The election will be held on time with all of its three stages on schedule," Maj-Gen Mamdouh Shaheen said at a press conference yesterday.

The apparent rejection of any transfer of power to a civilian council – two days after Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said the military would consider a referendum on the matter – leaves unresolved one of the main sticking points of this crisis.

Maj-Gen Mukhtar el-Mallah claimed that relinquishing power would be a "betrayal of the trust placed in our hands by the people".

"We will not relinquish power because a slogan-chanting crowd said so," he added. "Being in power is not a blessing. It is a curse. It's a very heavy responsibility."

Ramy el-Swissy from the April 6 movement – an influential youth group that has demanded the introduction of an interim civilian government – said protesters would remain in Tahrir Square until the ruling generals made further concessions. "We will make sure that we won't leave until our demands are met," he told The Independent.

Yesterday the ruined streets ofcentral Cairo lay quiet for the first time since Saturday, after a truce brokered between protesters and the police. But the recent chain of violence has been the worst since former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February, claiming nearly 40 lives, according to human rights groups. The military has offered an apology for the deaths of so many civilians. But yesterday Egypt's leading human rights organisations denounced the "fallacious statements" of the authorities and called for the resignation of senior officials, including the Interior Minister, General Mansour el-Essawi.

"Statements from the Interior Ministry included blatant lies denying that their forces fired live ammunition," said the NGOs in a joint statement, adding that the Military Council had supported the use of "brutal violence" against demonstrators.

Divisions have also emerged within the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political wing is widely expected to romp to victory in the coming elections.

Senior members of the organisation opposed any participation in the Tahrir Square sit-in, keen to avoid anything which could derail Monday's parliamentary poll and thus jeopardise their landmark bid for power.

But members of the Brotherhood Youth happily ignored their senior leaders, while other political parties accused the organisation of opportunism.

Meet the new boss: Former Mubarak Prime Minister set to take control

Egypt's ruling generals risked another confrontation with protesters by reportedly asking a former Prime Minister who served under Hosni Mubarak to form a new government.

Kamal Ganzouri, who was the premier from 1996-99, agreed to the proposal after meeting Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi yesterday, according to state media.

He gained a measure of popularity among some activists after attempting to distance himself from the Mubarak era following the former President's ousting in February. Some even touted him as a possible presidential candidate.

Yet the selection of a figure from the old regime remains a strange choice for the Military Council.

Shady al-Ghazaly Harb from the Revolution Youth Coalition, which is demanding that power is handed over to a civilian council, told The Independent it was "the worst move ever".

Alastair Beach

Journalist 'sexually assaulted and blindfolded' in Interior Ministry

A prize-winning Egyptian-American journalist claims she was beaten, blindfolded and sexually assaulted whilst being detained inside Cairo's Interior Ministry.

Mona Eltahawy, a former Reuters correspondent who writes columns for a number of newspapers around the world and makes regular television appearances as a commentator on Egyptian affairs, recounted her 12-hour ordeal through a series of posts on Twitter.

Eltahawy detailed how "five or six surrounded me, groped and prodded my breasts, grabbed my genital area and I lost count how many hands tried to get into my trousers". In a post soon after being arrested on Wednesday night, she wrote: "Beaten arrested in interior ministry."

There have been numerous reports of journalists being arrested during the recent rioting, including an American film-maker and a Wall Street Journal photographer.

Alastair Beach

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