Tensions Between Protesters, Soldiers in Cairo Rise on 12th Day of Unrest

Rumors circulate that military is preparing to withdraw, sparking fear in protesters, who see army as a degree of protection from regime supporters.

Demonstrations continued in Egypt on Saturday for the 12th day, with an Egyptian army commander addressing thousands of demonstrators camped out at Tahrir Square in central Cairo on in an effort to persuade them to stop a protest that has stalled economic life in the capital.

"You all have the right to express yourselves but please save what is left of Egypt. Look around you," Hassan al-Roweny said using a loud speaker and standing on a podium.

The crowd responded with shouts that President Hosni Mubarak should resign, at which Roweny stepped down saying: "I will not speak amid such chants."

Earlier, troops moved some of the demonstrators to make way for traffic to flow again.

Several thousand people thronged the square on Saturday, many of whom had been camped out for days with banners and flags. Egypt's working week starts on Sunday, when banks are due to reopen.

"We need to clear the road in the square, we need traffic to flow again through Tahrir. The people can stay in Tahrir, but not on the road," al-Roweny said on a tour of the square to talk to protesters.

There was a mixed reaction from protesters, who have had cordial relations with the military during 12 days of demonstrations.

"The army is doing the job of the NDP," said Sayyid Hamdy, referring to Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party. "It wants to separate the protesters, it wants to make Tahrir look like it's back to normal so that the world thinks the protesters have been satisfied and left the square."

Supporters of Mubarak have clashed with the protesters since Wednesday, leaving 11 dead and more than 1,000 wounded. The army set up reinforcements to protect the area and the protesters have checkpoints at all entry points.

The protesters unprecedented 12-day movement has entered a delicate new phase.

Organizers fear that without the pressure of protesters on the street,
Mubarak's regime will enact only cosmetic reforms and try to preserve its grip on power. So they are reluctant to lift their demonstrations without the concrete gain of Mubarak's ouster and a transition mechanism that guarantees a real move to democracy afterward.

From its side, the government has sought to draw opposition parties and the youth groups involved in the protests into immediate negotiations on constitutional reforms so presidential elections can be held in September to replace Mubarak. Protest organizers, wary of a trap, have refused until Mubarak goes.

Cairo protest - AP - Feb. 5, 2011

Also on Saturday, soldiers guarding the square tried to remove burned and gutted vehicles that protesters used as barricades during the fighting, but protesters argued with them for the vehicles to remain in case violence erupts again.

Rumors also circulated in the square that the military - which has surrounded Tahrir for days - was preparing to withdraw, so some protesters lay on the ground in front of tanks to prevent them. The protesters see the military as a degree of protection from police or regime supporters they fear will attack again.