Hundreds of thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters stood their ground in Cairo's Tahrir Square for a 17th day on Thursday, despite Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit's warning that the military could intervene if demonstrations continue.
Hundreds had camped overnight in and around Cairo's Tahrir Square, within sight of the nearby parliament buildings. By late afternoon, Al-Jazeera reported that nearly one million demonstrators had gathered.
They are demanding higher wages, political reform and the ouster of President Hosny Mubarak, and do not appear to be placated by the government's recent promises of reforms.
Aboul-Gheit, in interviews with Arab and U.S. media, warned that if the opposition continues its demands for Mubarak to step down, armed forces could be forced into action.
"If chaos erupts the armed forces will be forced to intervene to bring the country back under control," he said in an interview broadcast by Al Arabiya television Thursday.
"Such a step could lead to a very dangerous situation," he said. On Wednesday night, he told U.S. broadcaster PBS that military rule would be a "very dangerous possibility."
Protesters have called for a second "1-million-strong rally" on Friday.
On Thursday, around 5,000 medical staff and students from Kasr al- Ainy hospital joined the main protest. Protesters injured in clashes with police at the start of the mass demonstrations were treated at the hospital.
Members of the Lawyer's Syndicate were also moving towards Tahrir Square. A large banner outside the building that houses the syndicate, declared support for the protests.
Public and private sector workers in various parts of the country went on strike this week, with many joining the protests in cities like Suez and Ismailiya, which line the vital passageway of the Suez Canal.
Protests were held outside the ministries of civil aviation,
telecommunications and transport, as well as the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Workers at state-owned newspapers also went on strike gathered outside their offices.
Three ex-ministers and a former parliamentarian from Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party have been charged with corruption, regional news network al-Arabiya reported on Thursday.
Train services were disrupted Thursday as a strike by around 3,000 railway workers entered a second day.
In Nasr City outside Cairo, bus drivers blocked roads and said they would not move their vehicles until their demands for higher wages were met.
Meanwhile, Aboul-Gheit blamed the president's age for the demonstrations, which are being led by a mostly young opposition crowd.
"President Mubarak's advanced age and the uncertainty of who might succeed him are among the reasons," Aboul-Gheit told al-Arabiya.
The 82-year old president has rejected calls to step down immediately, but promised not to seek re-election after his term ends in September. Military tanks are stationed outside Mubarak's residence in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.
The Muslim Brotherhood has said its recently launched talks with the government were inconclusive and were on hold. The banned opposition group, Egypt's largest, is continuing to press for Mubarak to step down. The Tagammu Party, the largest opposition in the parliament, announced Thursday that it would not participate in negotiations.
Precise casualty figures have not been confirmed, but the United Nations said last week that it had received reports of 300 dead in the nationwide protests.
Three people died in clashes between demonstrators in the southern city of Kharga on Wednesday.
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