Coffins run out in city morgue as Egyptian cabinet offers to resign
Published 22/11/2011 | 05:00
The protesters on the front line kept up a rhythmic drumbeat, striking the railings and barricades on the perimeter of Tahrir Square with stones and planks of wood to fill central Cairo with a cacophonous message of defiance.
A hundred yards of rubble-strewn ashphalt separated them from soldiers and riot police advancing down the street at a slow but menacing pace.
Without warning, the air filled with tear gas. The pounding of the protesters grew more frenzied then faltered as a brief crackle of gunfire echoed nearby and the popping of the tear gas canisters grew more intense.
The rear ranks of the demonstrators began to splinter and then to break entirely, engulfing the square in pandemonium as people rushed for safety.
For a third day, the Middle East's most famous monument to latter-day freedom resonated once more to the noise of battle. Egypt, home to a third of the Arab world's population, seemed to have turned back the clock to the beginning of the year when its people exultantly threw off the yoke of Hosni Mubarak, the dictator who subjugated them for three decades.
The violence has sparked an offer from Egypt's entire cabinet to resign. As violence abated later in the day, the news brought fireworks and celebrations in Tahrir Square as crowds swelled into the tens of thousands. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) appeared to have ceded control of the square amid growing criticism at home and abroad of a bloody crackdown that killed at least 33 people.
Earlier protesters gave voice to the Arab Spring's most famous slogan, chanting 'The People Want to Topple the Regime'. And, just as they did in January and February, the security forces punished the people for their impudence with violence and bloodshed.
The battle for the future of Egypt persisted throughout the day, sometimes spilling into the square itself, but most often manifesting itself in inconclusive skirmishes on the streets leading to the nearby interior ministry.
The security forces doggedly defended the building from the people's wrath, protecting a symbol of Mubarak-era repression.
But the worst of the violence came shortly before dawn, when a full-scale assault was launched on the square in yet another attempt to clear away the protesters.
So bloody was the operation that the number of corpses taken to Cairo's charnel houses tripled in the space of a few hours. The death toll on Sunday evening stood at seven, but by yesterday morning it had risen to at least 33, according to mortuary officials.
There is no doubt that the clashes are by far the deadliest since the revolution against Mr Mubarak and pose the most serious challenge yet to the military leaders who succeeded him -- ostensibly to manage Egypt's transition to civilian democracy.
More than 1,250 people have now been wounded. Bearing testament to the high price paid in standing up to the military regime, a sign erected outside a makeshift mortuary in the square gave warning that coffins had run out.
By nightfall, the numbers in the square as darkness descended swelled into the tens of thousands. Attempts to retake the square appeared to have been abandoned with the generals increasingly being forced on to the defensive. (© Daily Telegraph, London)