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Egyptian Protesters Push For A 'Second Revolution'

Thousands of Egyptians poured into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday calling for a "second revolution" to oust the country's military rulers after days of bloody clashes between security forces and protesters.

As the people converged on the square, state television announced that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the country's ruling military council, was preparing to address the nation.

On Monday, the military-appointed government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf tendered its resignation in an apparent response to the protests. It was not immediately clear whether the offer to step down had been accepted by the all-powerful Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Activists hoped that Tuesday's mass rally in the capital would bolster support for a virtual replay of the uprising earlier this year. The new wave of protests and violence around the country has left at least 29 dead since Saturday.

Three American students at the American University in Cairo were arrested, according to the university, which is adjacent to Tahrir Square.

Security forces have mostly stayed away from the square in the past few days to avoid fresh confrontations. Even so, violence broke out in streets connecting the square to police headquarters. Black-clad security forces backed by military troops fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets to block groups of angry young men. They were met by stones and fire bombs.

Nearly 2,000 people have been wounded in the recent spasm of violence. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, reporting from the scene of the protests in Cairo, said rescue and medical workers on the front lines around Tahrir Square were having a hard time keeping up with the casualty rate.

As protesters in and around the square shouted slogans against the ruling military generals, wave after wave of young men surged toward the black-clad riot police, Nelson said. But security forces were unrelenting as they repeatedly fired tear gas into the crowd, leading to a steady stream of wounded.

The injured were carried by comrades on motorbikes from the front line. At one field hospital, set up in a mosque at the edge of the square, dozens of weary volunteer medical workers triaged patients on dusty blankets spread outside.

Trauma surgeon Seif Khirfan said staffers have seen as many as 100 patients an hour and that he had seen evidence of live rounds being used.

"Well, the gunshots are the worst — especially the ones in the head, they are terrible," Khirfan told NPR. "You see them for a very short while then you have to transfer them to a bigger hospital, but the few seconds that you actually get in contact with is really very tormenting to see."

He added that the tear gas appeared to be more toxic than what police forces lobbed during the first uprising in January:

"I think this new batch is causing a lot of nervous breakdowns and a lot of suffocation and respiratory problems," the doctor said. "Even burning in the face. We have to put burn ointments because they get burning in the face."

The two sides have been engaged in intense clashes since Saturday with protesters trying to force out the generals who have failed to stabilize the country, salvage the economy or bring democracy more than nine months after taking the reins from Mubarak.

In many ways, the protests bear a striking resemblance to the 18-day uprising beginning Jan. 25 that toppled Mubarak. The chants are identical, except that military ruler Tantawi's name has replaced Mubarak's.

"The goal is to get rid of the government. They're still stealing and people can't eat," protester Raed Said, 23, told The Associated Press as he walked with an arm around his friend who was choking from the tear gas. "The field marshal has to leave because he's trying to protect Mubarak and doesn't want to try him, so he has to go."

Hundreds of protesters arrived early Tuesday to join several thousand who have been camping on Tahrir Square, sleeping in tents or on the grass rolled up in blankets despite efforts by police to clear the area. The crowds hoisted a giant Egyptian flag and chanted slogans demanding the generals immediately step down in favor of a presidential civilian council.

One man held a sign reading "ministry of thuggery" with photos of Mubarak, current Prime Minister Sharaf and others. A few hundred young men nearby chanted "say it, don't fear, the council must go" and "the people want to execute the field marshal."

The rally, dubbed "Egypt's Salvation," came a day after Sharaf's civilian Cabinet submitted its resignation to the military council and a few days before the country's first parliamentary elections since Mubarak was forced to step down. Fears were high that the turmoil would disrupt elections due to begin on Nov. 28.

Amnesty International harshly criticized the military rulers in a new report, saying they have "completely failed to live up their promises to Egyptians to improve human rights."

The London-based group documented steps by the military that have fallen short of increasing human rights and in some cases have made matters worse than under Mubarak.

"The euphoria of the uprising has been replaced by fears that one repressive rule has simply been replaced with another," according to the report, issued early Tuesday.

The report called for repeal of the Mubarak-era "emergency laws," expanded to cover "thuggery" and criticizing the military. It said the army has placed arbitrary restrictions on media and other outlets.

Egyptian security forces have continued to use torture against demonstrators, the report said, and some 12,000 civilians have been tried in military trials, which it called "unfair."

A military spokesman, meanwhile, told The Associated Press that the military has set up barbed wire and barricades around the security headquarters to prevent protesters from storming the building. "We are only here to protect the Interior Ministry," he said.

The spokesman, who asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to release the information, also said army officers and soldiers had been forbidden to enter Tahrir Square.

In violence elsewhere, Egypt's state-TV reported that three people were killed overnight in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, east of Cairo, raising the overall death toll from the protests to 29.

Vali Nasr, a former Obama administration adviser who is now a professor at Tufts University, said Egyptians' challenge to the military was is an inevitable stage in its move toward democracy.

"The sooner you break the hold of the old order and the security order, the more you actually have a chance at democracy," Nasr, who is the author of The Rise of Islamic Capitalism, told NPR. "You have to break their hold over the economy. That's really critical, and the battle hasn't gone there yet.

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

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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