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Egypt's Tahrir Square Under World Watch


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Protestors in Egypt called yesterday's demonstrations the "Day of Departure." They're seeking the immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. That didn't happen, and today thousands of anti-government protestors have gathered again in Cairo's Liberation Square. It's been the center of demonstrations and sometimes of violent clashes for nearly two weeks now.

NPR's Corey Flintoff is in Cairo. Corey, thanks for being with us and what are you seeing now?

COREY FLINTOFF: Thank you. Well, the protest is ongoing and it's been gaining in strength even as we speak. There are fewer people probably than yesterday when there were just tens of thousands of people in the square and the atmosphere was almost like a festival.

There's one striking thing today, though, and that is the way the army has increased its presence around the square. There are now soldiers out there checking IDs and searching people as they move in and out of the area. And that was something that earlier was doing done by the protestors themselves. So, there's a sense that even though this protest is being allowed to continue, it's being contained in the square and the army is in full control of all the access points.

SIMON: Corey, it's often been pointed out over the past few weeks that even with hundreds of thousands of people in the square, Cairo is a city of quite a few million people. What do we know about life in the rest of the city?

FLINTOFF: Well, we took a cab through central Cairo this morning on our way to an interview and you can see that there are some shops open now, there is some street life that seems to be returning but a lot of the streets and a lot of the bridges are still blocked. So, it's difficult to get around. There's a lot of army presence as well, and that may be a prelude to the banks opening tomorrow, which will give people an opportunity to get out their money and start buying things and food and so forth again.

People seem very aware of the economic cost that this disruption is having. It's estimated to be a billion dollars in lost tourist revenue alone. We spoke with some people who are really angry about the losses to their jobs and their businesses.

SIMON: And, Corey, what can you tell us, what can you discern about any negotiations that might be going on now between people and President Mubarak's palace and other members of the government and perhaps people in the U.S. government or in the political opposition?

FLINTOFF: It's very difficult to tell, of course. But we know that the government side is being led by the vice president, Omar Suleiman, and the prime minister, both of whom are former military men. They've both been pillars of Mubarak's regime. And then there's a group of prominent men who are apparently self-appointed. It's been dubbed the council of wise men, and it consists of prominent judges and business leaders and academics.

They've been reported to be proposing a plan that could lead to Mubarak deputizing his powers to the vice president then leaving the country for some period of time, you know, maybe going on his yearly health checkup in Europe. But he would apparently still retain the title of president so that he can make a graceful exit.

Then there are members of some of the opposition groups. Of course, the April 6th group and the youth movement that's been associated with Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei. So far there's been no word on whether there's any progress or whether any agreement is even close.

SIMON: And reportedly today there was a huge explosion in a natural gas pipeline. What can you tell us from there?

FLINTOFF: Well, that took place in the Sinai Peninsula. It's critical because the explosion has cut off gas supplies to Jordan and Syria and Israel, and that's something that insurgents in the area have tried to do in the past. The cause is unknown but officials are saying it could be a result of sabotage. Authorities say that the fire has been contained but that the line could be shut down for a week for repairs. So, it's not clear whether the line to Israel has been damaged but that's been shut down for safety right now.

And this could be serious for Jordan because they generate about 80 percent of their electric power using Egyptian gas.

SIMON: NPR's Corey Flintoff on the job in Cairo. Thanks so much.

FLINTOFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.