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Sheer weight of numbers leaves army impotent against crowd

Blood turns brown with age. Revolutions do not.

Vile rags now hang in a corner of the square, the last clothes worn by the martyrs of Tahrir: a doctor, a lawyer among them, a young woman, their pictures strewn above the crowds, the fabric of the T-shirts and trousers stained the colour of mud.

But yesterday, the people honoured their dead in their tens of thousands for the largest protest march ever against President Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship: a sweating, pushing, shouting, weeping, joyful people, impatient, fearful that the world may forget their courage and their sacrifice.

It took three hours to force our way into the square, two hours to plunge through a sea of human bodies to leave.

High above us, a ghastly photomontage flapped in the wind: Hosni Mubarak's head superimposed upon the terrible picture of Saddam Hussein with a noose round his neck.

Uprisings don't follow timetables.

And Mubarak will search for some revenge for yesterday's renewed explosion of anger and frustration at his 30-year rule.

For two days, his new back-to-work government had tried to portray Egypt as a nation slipping back into its old, autocratic torpor.

Gas stations open, a series of obligatory traffic jams, banks handing out money -- albeit in suitably small amounts -- shops gingerly doing business, ministers sitting to attention on state television as the man who would remain king for another five months lectured them on the need to bring order out of chaos -- his only stated reason for hanging grimly to power.

But Issam Etman proved him wrong.

Shoved and battered by the thousands around him, he carried his five-year-old daughter Hadiga on his shoulders.

"I am here for my daughter," he shouted above the protest. "It is for her freedom that I want Mubarak to go.

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"I am not poor. I run a transport company and a gas station. Everything is shut now and I'm suffering, but I don't care. I am paying my staff from my own pocket.

"This is about freedom. Anything is worth that."

And all the while, the little girl sat on Issam Etman's shoulders and stared at the epic crowds in wonderment; no Harry Potter extravaganza would match this.

Many of the protesters had come for the first time.

The soldiers of Egypt's Third Army must have been outnumbered 40,000 to one and they sat on their tanks and armoured personnel carriers, smiling nervously as old men and youths and young women sat around their tank tracks, sleeping on the armour, heads on the great steel wheels -- a military force turned to impotence by an army of dissent. (© Independent News Service)

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