EGYPT: Army calls protests 'freedom of speech,' won't use force to dispel demonstrators
The Egyptian army recognizes mass protests consuming the country as the people's legitimate right to "freedom of expression" and will not use force against the demonstrators, an army spokesman said in a statement read on Egyptian state television Monday night local time in Egypt.
It was the first concrete assurance given by the military that soldiers wouldn't shoot on those protesting peacefully in demand of President Hosni Mubarak's ouster.
"The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and well-being," the statement said. "The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people."
Soldiers have been patrolling the streets of Cairo and other major Egyptian cities since most police and security forces withdrew over the weekend after deadly clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement still loyal to Mubarak's authoritarian leadership. The army rank and file are drawn from throughout the country and have close and historic ties to the people.
The government has extended a curfew from 3 p.m. to 8 a.m., but thousands of protesters have refused to leave the scenes of protests, occupying Cairo's central Tahrir Square and paralyzing huge swaths of the capital.
Tanks and armored vehicles have been posted on the sidelines of the protests, but army troops have refrained from enforcing the curfew or attempting to break up the biggest anti-government demonstrations in decades.
In its statement, the army warned Egyptians against looting and sabotage, saying it wouldn't tolerate lawlessness and acts that "terrorize citizens."
-- Carol J. Williams
Photo: An Egyptian man carries a child on his shoulders near Cairo's museum during protests in downtown Cairo. Credit: Manuel de Almeida / EPA.