CAIRO (Reuters) - Scores of Egyptian youth protesters marking the one-year anniversary of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak bedded down in Tahrir Square and pledged to stay put until the ruling military council hands power to civilians.
United last year by anger at Mubarak and his 30-year rule, Egyptians were in high spirits on the January 25 anniversary but divided between activists demanding a swift end to army rule and those celebrating the strides their country has taken with its first free elections in 60 years.
The attempt to extend the protest, which the military had hoped to limit to a daytime celebration, raises the prospect of violence. A series of sit-ins in recent months have ended in clashes with security forces and left dozens dead.
“There will be a sit-in until they leave, by any means but they should leave,” said Alaa Abdel Fattah, a blogger who was detained by the army after clashes outside the state media offices, or Maspiro, left 25 protesters dead in October.
Abdel Fattah was speaking outside the Maspiro tower in central Cairo where hundreds of protesters were gathered after spilling out of Tahrir Square.
“The day was great today, the marches were huge... the differences in the square are natural. We always had different stages competing with each other but it isn’t important,” said Abdel Fattah, prominent among Egyptian youth activists.
Tens of thousands had massed in Tahrir Square and other Egyptian cities on Wednesday, 12 months after Mubarak was ousted at the height of the Arab Spring protests that swept the region.
The army has promised to relinquish power after a presidential poll in June but some protesters, who complain that the army has used the same heavy-handed tactics against opponents as Mubarak did, want the transfer of power speeded up.
The 83-year-old Mubarak is on trial for his life and a new parliament was installed this week that is dominated by his Islamist adversaries. Some of the youthful activists who launched last year’s revolt are weary of army rule but fear the Islamists may stifle their hopes.
By about 10:30 p.m. (2030 GMT), some 30 tents were pitched on the traffic island in Tahrir Square and on the verge outside a nearby government complex.
The Revolutionary Youth Coalition, one of the main protest groups, said there was no agreed decision to camp out but some individuals had decided to do so.
“We have no choice but to hold a sit-in, nothing was achieved except through a sit-in,” said Hamed Mohammed, a 28-year-old engineer who was bedding down in the square.
“We will decide whether to close the square or not depending on the numbers but people must know the last thing we want is to cause the country any harm.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, whose followers were in Tahrir Square to celebrate their dramatic rise at a recent election to the leadership of parliament, had warned against a sit-in.
However, it appeared some Brotherhood members would remain in the square to try to avert any attacks on the protesters. “We have not taken a collective decision to hold a sit-in,” said Amr Sayyid, in charge of the Brotherhood’s podium.
“But given that some youths and those representing the injured and martyrs have decided to remain in Tahrir, teams of Brotherhood members will remain in the square for security purposes to prevent a security gap which leads to thugs entering the square and conflict ensuing.”
In Alexandria, a Mediterranean port that is Egypt’s second-biggest city, about 100 protesters set up tents a few hundred meters (yards) from the police headquarters, demanding the army hand over power immediately.
Additional reporting by Marwa Awad in Cairo and Abdel Rahman Youssef in Alexandria, Writing by Lin Noueihed