Egypt protesters hang Hosni Mubarak in effigy, hold together in solidarity

Egypt protesters in central Cairo swelled to more than 200,000 today in the biggest demonstrations yet calling for an end to the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

Victoria Hazou/AP
An effigy of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak hangs over demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Tuesday, Feb. 1. Security officials say authorities have shut down all roads and public transportation to Cairo, where tens of thousands of people are converging to demand the ouster of Mubarak after nearly 30 years in power.

The crowd in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square swelled to hundreds of thousands of people today in the biggest protests yet calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

The rally had a feeling of increased solidarity, and hoarse-throated protesters showed no signs of letting up as the growing crowds increased pressure for Mr. Mubarak to step down.

“O Mubarak, wake up, today is your last day!” shouted protesters. An effigy of the president was hung from a traffic signal in the middle of the square, and some signs depicted Egypt's president as Hitler.

While the number of protesters was estimated at 200,000, far short of the “million man march” that had been called for today, those present showed no sign of disappointment or wavering. “There’s millions of people here!” one man yelled into his cell phones. So many were in the square that cell phone service was spotty. Internet is still unavailable countrywide.

For the first time after a week of protests, checkpoints were formed at the entrances to the square. Separate lines formed for men and women, with men patting down the men and veiled women patting down the female protesters and checking IDs.

Asked who organized the checkpoints, those patting down the protesters denied being from any political group and said, “We’re just from the people.”

Families, youths, and the elderly packed into the square, infusing the crowd with energy.

Amid a growing sense of solidarity in Tahrir Square, some people collected trash and stacked it in burnt-out cars. Others passed out food, with a man seen handing out dates and a woman offering free falafel sandwiches. Although the scene could be ripe for vendors to hike up prices, juice and soda sold for normal prices.

One protester said his friend gave him 2,000 pounds (about $350) to purchase food to hand out in the square.

Military helicopters circled overhead. Army tanks cordoned off the square. The Army has in past days appeared supportive of the protesters, allowing them to climb aboard their tanks and spray slogans such as "Down with Mubarak!" on the metal sides.

But today, the Army appeared to be attempting to scrub off or paint over the graffiti on the tanks, no longer allowing demonstrators to climb aboard their vehicles. At the same time, people were no longer seen offering flowers to the troops.

Despite this sense of reservation, protesters remain supportive and hopeful that the Army will back their demands. Egypt's military announced overnight Monday that it recognized “the legitimacy of the people’s demands,” and vowed it "will not use force against the public." Many here say they believe that the military will play a decisive role in the coming days.

The protesters did not appear to be marching toward the Presidential Palace as had been suggested Monday. The events have fueled street demonstrations elsewhere in the Arab world, including in Jordan, where the king today dismissed his government in the face of street protests.

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