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EGYPT: Military prepares Tahrir Square for work week

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Egypt’s army closed in on Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Saturday night as it prepared to clear the area of thousands of protesters in preparation for the start of the work week, witnesses told Reuters.

Protesters told Al Jazeera they feared they would be moved during the day.

Earlier in the day, an Egyptian army commander addressed demonstrators camped in the square in an effort to persuade them to stop a protest that has stalled the capital’s -- and the country’s--economy.

‘You all have the right to express yourselves, but please save what is left of Egypt. Look around you,’ Hassan al-Roweny, central military zone commander, said on a loudspeaker to huge cheers, as he stood on a podium used by protesters, according to Reuters.

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The crowd responded with calls for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, at which point Roweny stepped down, saying: “I will not speak amid such chants,” Reuters reported.

Troops moved some of the demonstrators Saturday to make way for traffic Sunday, when banks are due to reopen at the start of the work week.

“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,” Roweny told Reuters during a tour of the square.

Roweny also visited a makeshift hospital where people wounded in clashes with Mubarak supporters were being treated Saturday.

He said a clinic station set up in the open at the north entrance of the square should move inside the Egyptian Museum, Reuters reported.

The army set up reinforcements to protect the area after violent clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters Jan. 28. Anti-Mubarak protesters have also set up their own checkpoints at many entrances to the square, Reuters reported.

The army tightened access to the area Saturday, according to Reuters and Al Jazeera. A cordon of soldiers created a space in the middle of the traffic hub, separating the protesters near the Egyptian museum from others in the square.

“We want people to go back to work and to get paid, and life to get back to normal,” Roweny told reporters.

Some protesters followed Roweny across the square, shouting anti-Mubarak chants. Others appealed to the army for support.

At one point during the day the activists began banging on barricades they had set up near the museum to alert others to reinforce them, fearing an army effort to push them back. Late in the day, they spread word that SMS text service had been restored. — Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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