Fresh clashes erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday between police and protesters demanding the end of army rule, as the rulingmilitary council faced its worst crisis since Hosni Mubarak was toppled.
The clashes, which have left 24 left dead in three days according tothe interior ministry, threatened to derail the country’s first elections since Mubarak’s ouster in February.
Political forces behind the uprising have called for a mass rally on Tuesday to demand that the army cede power to civilian rule.
The Coalition of Revolution Youth and the April 6 movement, among others, have called for the protest at 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) on Tuesday in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of rallies that ousted Mubarak in February.
In a Facebook page for the rally, the groups called for the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s cabinet and the formation of a “national salvation” government.
They also demanded a presidential election to be held by April 2012 and a complete overhaul of the interior ministry.
Police and military forces on Monday sporadically used batons, tear gas and birdshot against thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square demanding for a third straight day that the ruling military cede power to a civilian authority.
Renewed fighting also broke out in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, state television said.
Hundreds have also been injured during the protests that have raged in Cairo, Alexandria and the canal city of Suez.
Culture minister Emad Abu Ghazi quit in protest at the government response to the demonstrations, he told the official MENA news agency.
The health ministry said 24 people had died in the violence, kicking off a violent countdown to the country’s November 28 parliamentary elections.
“The deaths in Tahrir Square and several provinces has reached 22,” since clashes erupted on Saturday, the health ministry said in a statement carried by MENA.
“War in the Square,” read the headline of the state-owned Al-Akhbar, while the liberal Wafd daily said “Egypt is sitting on a volcano.”
Egypt’s stock exchange tumbled 4.04 percent on closing on Monday, with the main EGX-30 index dropping 3,860.00 points.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi called for calm and urged all political forces to press forward with the democratic process.
He urged them “to work for calm and return to the political process and move forward with the process of democratic change based on the principles of freedom, dignity and social justice on which the January 25 revolution was founded.”
The clashes first erupted on Saturday, a day after large crowds staged a peaceful anti-military mass rally at the square, resuming on Sunday and carrying through the night into Monday, witnesses and television footage showed.
Police and troops on Sunday seized the square only to be beaten back by protesters who retook it later, as had also happened on Saturday.
There were heavy clashes on side streets leading to the interior ministry as protesters chanted “The people want to topple the field marshal” — Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s long-time defence minister who heads the ruling military.
Egypt’s cabinet, which held crisis talks on Sunday for several hours before moving en masse to the headquarters of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for another meeting, said in a statement that next week’s parliamentary elections would go ahead.
The SCAF, in a statement read out on state television, said it “regretted” what was happening and said it was committed to the elections timetable.
Earlier Mohsen al-Fangari, a member of the council, insisted the election would go ahead as planned and that the authorities were able to guarantee security.
“We will not give in to calls to delay the elections. The armed forces and the interior ministry are able to secure the polling stations,” Fangari told a television talk show.
Several prominent political figures and intellectuals, including former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, earlier issued a call for a delay to the legislative polls.
They submitted a new transition roadmap which would see an elected constituent assembly draft a constitution and then a presidential election would be held, followed by parliamentary polls.
Friday’s rally, which grouped Islamist and secular activists, called on the military to hand power to a civilian government. It also demanded more control over the constitution the new parliament is to draft.
Protesters called for the withdrawal of a government document that proposes supra-constitutional principles, which could see the military maintain some control over the country’s affairs and keep its budget from public scrutiny.
The military says it will hand over power after a presidential election, which has yet to be scheduled.