Cairo Egypt protest
Egyptian protesters attend Friday prayers in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by AP
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CAIRO - The Egyptian army apologized yesterday for dispersing protesters outside a government building near Tahrir Square the previous night. In protest, demonstrators returned to the city square at dawn yesterday, pledging to continue protesting until the revolution's demands were met.

At about 2 A.M. yesterday, Egyptian soldiers forcibly dispersed demonstrators who were demanding the government's resignation. At 6 A.M. demonstrators arrived at the nearby Tahrir Square to protest the forcible break-up of the demonstration. More and more people joined them throughout the day and by evening a large protest had gathered in Cairo's now-famous square. Some of the activists said they would spend the night there.

A few hours after the report was issued about the protest being dispersed, the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces' published an apology on its Facebook page. The army insisted it had never ordered the breaking up of the demonstration and promised never to do so again.

At the same time, however, a sender identified as the Armed Forces forwarded a text message to all Egyptian mobile phones saying the demonstrations were disrupting people's lives.

The contradictory messages are confusing the activists and arousing uncertainty among them. Early yesterday evening, senior army commanders and tanks disappeared from Tahrir Square, leaving only military policemen who for the time being are replacing the traffic police. This raised fears that supporters of the ousted president would take the opportunity to confront the demonstrators.

Another Armed Forces message on Facebook - calling those demonstrators who try to confront the army "provocateurs" - hinted at that possibility as well.

People who demonstrated outside the government building Friday night said soldiers detained activists, beat them with clubs and then let them go. Reuters quoted demonstrators who said the soldiers also fired a few shots in the air.

The protesters are demanding the resignation of the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak, saying it represents the old regime. All the opposition factions are also demanding the cabinet's resignation.

Cairo proposes competitive presidential elections

CAIRO - An Egyptian panel tasked with amending the country's constitution recommended yesterday easing restrictions on who can run for president and imposing presidential term limits - two key demands of the popular uprising that pushed longtime President Hosni Mubarak from power.

The eight-member panel also suggested limits on the use of emergency laws - in place in Egypt for 30 years - to a six-month period, with the approval of an elected parliament. Extending the emergency laws beyond that period should be put to a public referendum, the panel said.

The sweeping changes must still be put to a popular referendum to take effect, but they appear to address many of the demands of the protesters who led the 18-day popular uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on February 11 after more than 30 years in power. The military council has been running Egypt's affairs since then. (The Associated Press)