Egypt's civilian cabinet offered to resign Monday after three days of violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces in Tahrir Square, but the action failed to satisfy protesters deeply frustrated with the new military rulers.
The health ministry and a doctor at an improvised field hospital on the square said at least 26 people have been killed and 1,750 wounded in the latest violence as activists sought to fill the streets for a "second revolution" to force out the generals who have failed to stabilize the country, salvage the economy or bring democracy.
Throughout the day, young protesters demanding the military hand over power to a civilian government fought with black-clad police, hurling stones and firebombs and throwing back the tear gas canisters being fired by police into the square, which was the epicenter of the movement that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
'Very toxic tear gas'
"Security forces have been using very toxic tear gas. I was here during the January-February revolution and I remember taking in some of the tear gas. And this time when I took it in, I nearly choked on my own saliva," freelance journalist Jihan Hafiz told CBC News.
"I did film here last night where I have [been] spending the last couple of nights. I filmed four dead bodies. When I asked the doctors how they were killed they said asphyxiation from the tear gas. So the tear gas, they're saying, is much more toxic than before.
"They're also using buckshot bullets, which shoot out three, four, five different pellets in many directions."
By midnight tens of thousands of protesters were in the huge downtown square.
The clashes have deepened the disarray among Egypt's political ranks, with the powerful Muslim Brotherhood balking at joining in the demonstrations, fearing that turmoil will disrupt elections next week that the Islamists expect to dominate.
The protests in Tahrir and elsewhere across this nation of some 85 million people have forced the ruling military council as well as the cabinet it backs into two concessions, but neither were significant enough to send anyone home.
The council issued an anti-graft law that bans anyone convicted of corruption from running for office or holding a government post, a move that is likely to stop senior members from the Mubarak regime from running for public office.
Hours later, the cabinet of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf submitted its resignation to the council, a move that was widely expected given the government's perceived inefficiency and its almost complete subordination to the generals.
Protesters cheered and shouted "God is great!" when the news arrived of the cabinet resignation offer, but they almost immediately resumed their chant of "The people want to topple the field marshal" – a reference to military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
"We are not clearing the square until there is a national salvation government that is representative and has full responsibility," said activist Rami Shaat, who was at the site.
The council released a statement late Monday calling for a national dialogue to "urgently study the reasons for the current crisis and ways to overcome it."
The statement, carried by Egypt's state news agency, said the military deeply regrets the loss of life and has ordered the Justice Ministry to form a committee to investigate the incidents of the past few days. The military said it ordered security forces to take measures that would protect demonstrators, who have the right to peaceful protest.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States was deeply concerned about the violence and urged restraint on all sides so Egypt could proceed with a timely transition to democracy.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also deplored the loss of life and called on authorities "to guarantee the protection of human rights and civil liberties for all Egyptians, including the right to peaceful protest," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Rights groups blasts military rulers
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 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."
In many ways, the protests in Tahrir bore a striking resemblance to the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak. The chants are identical, except that Tantawi's name has replaced Mubarak's.
"The people want the execution of the marshal," protesters screamed Monday. The hallmark chant of "erhal," or "leave," that once was aimed at Mubarak is now meant for Tantawi, his defence minister for 20 years.
Some of the protesters demanded that the generals immediately step down in favour of a presidential civilian council.
"If the military steps down, then who will be left to run the country until elections are held?" said Ahmed Fathy, a 27-year-old dentist who prefers a date for the handover rather than the departure of the military now. "The military can strike back by turning the nation against us."
About 5,000 to 7,000 protesters were in Tahrir Square for most of the day but the number rose to around 30,000 after nightfall — nowhere near filling it but displaying the strength of the movement despite the military's tireless campaign to marginalize the youths who drove Mubarak from office.
Protesters also marched in other cities, including thousands of students in the coastal city of Alexandria.