CAIRO (Reuters) - The Egyptian army moved into Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday and cleared away a few hundred protesters who remained camped there after the main groups suspended a three-week demonstration held to advance demands for faster democratic reforms.
There was little sign of violence, though witnesses said some shots were fired in the air, as army vehicles and troops acted to end the public show of displeasure with the military high command handling a transition toward free elections.
The protest group April 6 said it objected to emptying the square by using force against protesters. The group shelved its sit-in on Sunday for the duration of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began on Monday.
Witnesses said some in the square were detained by military police, a move the cabinet described on its Facebook page as coming amid “cheers of support from citizens” who criticized those arrested as “thugs.” The number of arrests was not known.
The army acted two days before the start of former President Hosni Mubarak’s trial over his role in killing protesters during the uprising centered on Tahrir Square that toppled him on February 11. Demonstrators had been calling for a swift trial.
Mubarak, 83, who has been hospitalized in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in April, signed a court summons to acknowledge the request for him to attend the trial in Cairo on Wednesday, the state broadcaster’s website reported.
The health minister said Mubarak’s condition “was partially stable and there was no problem moving him” to Cairo, and the ministry was ready to provide medical support to that end.
State media showed pictures of preparations in the Cairo Police Academy where the trial will be held, including a cage where defendants usually stand in Egyptian criminal trials.
Some passers-by clapped as cars and buses drove through Tahrir once again. The square is a major thoroughfare and had been blocked off by demonstrators, angering some Egyptians who have grown tired of the protracted street protests that have disrupted their lives and damaged the nation’s economy.
“Thanks to the army for clearing the square. Please take down those banners!” shouted one passer-by.
“It is good they ended the protest. This was unbelievable,” said Ahmed Soliman, a textile shop worker in Tahrir. “We are unable to get our products in or out.”
A list of 26 groups said in a statement on Sunday that they would end their protest during Ramadan, but reaffirmed their demand for more changes from the army generals now in power.
But a few hundred people had said they would stay in the square during Ramadan, when Muslims do not drink or eat in daylight hours.
Protesters have occupied Tahrir since July 8 to press demands that included a deeper purge of officials who served Mubarak and faster trials in corruption cases.
The army and the cabinet have offered some concessions, including a sweep-out of top officers in the police force and televising trials of ex-ministers and other former officials.
Hossam al-Din Ibrahim, 45, a construction worker in Tahrir, said that he was not linked to the groups who called off the protest and vowed to remain until Mubarak, other top officials and executives were tried and convicted.
“We want them to be executed, like the ... martyrs who were killed by the police during the revolution. In religion there is retribution for people who killed,” he said, referring to the 850 or so people killed in the uprising against Mubarak.
Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh, Patrick Werr and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich