CAIRO - The Egyptian army on Sunday blocked entry to a central Cairo square that has been a focal point for demonstrators over the past six days of protests against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. The move came, however, after some 20,000 people had already gathered there.
A row of advanced M1 tanks entered the central Cairo square Sunday afternoon with their cannons covered. It is unclear why such a large number of tanks were deployed. Despite this, tens of thousands of protesters have surrounded them, continuing to protest.
Two fighter aircrafts swooped low above the square, in what appeared to be yet another fruitless attempt by the military to seem in control of the chaotic city. Protesters remained undeterred by the jets, refusing to go home despite warnings.
There was no sign of police on the streets of Cairo on Sunday, although the gunfire that had been heard around the Interior Ministry headquarters on Saturday seemed to have ceased. Six people were thought to have been killed in the shooting and another 50 or more wounded.
The Egyptian army was guarding the deserted ministry compound Sunday morning, after officials were evacuated. "We secured the Interior Ministry this morning and evacuated state security personnel. The ministry is empty," an army officer who did not want to be named said at the site. "We're here for as long as it takes."
Meanwhile, Mubarak visited a military headquarters and met top commanders, state media reported Sunday, showing the president chairing a meeting even as protesters continued with their demands that he quit.
State television showed Mubarak meeting newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, Defence Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Chief of Staff Sami al-Anan and other commanders.
The official state news agency said Mubarak was reviewing the armed forces headquarters in charge of security operations.
Angry protesters overnight blockaded the Interior Ministry offices, breaking windows and setting the premises ablaze as police officers barricaded themselves inside the looted building.
The city had awoken to a morning of tension and uncertainty. Thousands of protesters began making their way to Tahrir Square; the soldiers offered encouragement, careful to avoid any confrontation.
One of the armored vehicles parked at the square was painted with the slogan "Fuck Mubarak." The protesters have rejected the political changes made by an embattled Mubarak in an attempt to calm anger at his regime.
Looted stores, burnt out cars and the stench of blazing tires filled the streets of Cairo as security forces struggled to contain looters. Egyptians armed with sticks and razors had formed vigilante groups to defend their homes from looters as police disappeared from the streets on Saturday night.
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