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Egypt's Cabinet Offers To Resign Amid More Clashes

An injured Egyptian protester is helped away during clashes with security forces Monday in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Khaled Desouki
AFP/Getty Images
An injured Egyptian protester is helped away during clashes with security forces Monday in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his Cabinet submitted their resignations to the ruling military council on Monday, the third straight day of deadly clashes between police and protesters in Cairo.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces did not immediately say whether it would accept the resignations from the Cabinet, which has little authority.

Thousands of protesters clashed with police in Tahrir Square, fueled by anger over what demonstrators say is the military's desire to hold on to power indefinitely. At least 24 people have died in the worst bloodshed since the popular uprising that toppled Egypt's government nine months ago.

Demonstrations in Tahrir Square, which was the epicenter of protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February, erupted Saturday and have escalated.

Beating drums, the protesters chanted, "the people want the ouster of the field marshal." That was a reference to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the council of generals that has ruled the country since Mubarak fell.

Many Egyptians have seen Prime Minister Sharaf's government as a mere facade for the military, and consider it unable or unwilling to press ahead with democratic reform.

Casualties Rise Rapidly

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, reporting from Cairo, said dozens of ambulances edged slowly through the crowd of protesters to ferry the injured away. But the emergency workers couldn't keep up with the flow of those wounded by the tear gas and rubber bullets fired by the Egyptian security forces.

Trauma surgeon Seif Khirfan was one of many weary volunteers at a makeshift hospital outside Tahrir Square.

"I'm really surprised that people we are treating are running back to the front lines to defend the square," he said. "And the thing is no one really wants to attack. They are trying to defend the square."

The doctor said what's especially troubling is that neither the police nor the military were trying to talk to protesters to defuse the situation.

That's something Egyptian soldiers did during the uprising against Mubarak last January and led many protesters to embrace the military as interim rulers until a new civilian government could be elected.

But as the ruling military council's planned hand-over of power keeps being delayed, and as it clamps down harshly on dissent, a growing number of Egyptians believe it's time to drive out the generals just as they drove out Mubarak.

A statement from the military rulers expressed regret over the deaths and injuries among the protesters. The statement also urged them to go home.

Threat To Elections?

The interim government accused protesters of trying to sabotage parliamentary elections that are scheduled to begin next Monday. But at an afternoon news conference, the leaders of about two dozen political parties dismissed such allegations. They said they want the vote to proceed because they see it as the quickest way of assuring transition to civilian rule.

An Egyptian morgue official said the death toll had climbed to at least 24 since the violence began. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the numbers. Hundreds of people have been injured, according to doctors in the square.

"We must use force against force. We cannot just throw stones at them," said Hassan Mohammed, a protester in his 20s.

"Do you expect us to meet blood with kindness?" asked a bearded teenager climbing a tree with a firebomb in hand. "We will burn it under their feet."

Tens of thousands of Islamists and young activists, mobilized by the Muslim Brotherhood, had massed in Tahrir Square on Friday to protest the military council. But when members of the Islamist group went home, hundreds of demonstrators remained in the square overnight and tried to set up tents, Nelson reported. Riot police then moved in to dismantle the camp and burn down the tents.

The fighting escalated Sunday when police launched a heavy assault that failed to clear protesters from the square. As the clashes continued overnight, police hit a makeshift field clinic operated by protesters in the square, forcing them to evacuate bloodied wounded to a nearby mosque.

The latest eruption of violence reflects the frustration and confusion that has mired Egypt's revolution since Mubarak's fall.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces says it will not hand over control of the government until after presidential elections, which it says could happen in late 2012 or early 2013. The protesters are demanding an immediate move to civilian rule.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported from Cairo for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press

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NPR Staff and Wires