Egypt threatens crackdown but protesters stay put

Egypt threatens crackdown but protesters stay put

Egypt's government warned of a military crackdown as massive rallies against President Hosni Mubarak spread and reports surfaced that the army had detained and tortured pro-democracy activists.

Hundreds of demonstrators marched on parliament from the epicentre of the uprising in Cairo's Tahrir Square yesterday, a day after the largest protests since the revolt began, as unrest spread across the nation.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit warned the army, until now a mostly neutral force, would intervene if the protests against Mubarak's 30-year-old US-backed rule escalated.

"If chaos occurs, the armed forces will intervene to control the country, a step... which would lead to a very dangerous situation," the official MENA news agency said, paraphrasing Abul Gheit's interview with Arabic-language satellite television channel Al-Arabiya.

His remarks came after newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman warned of a possible "coup" in the absence of a peaceful transfer of powe Abul Gheit slammed the United States for "imposing" its will on Egypt by demanding immediate reforms.

"When you speak about prompt, immediate, now, as if you are imposing on a great country like Egypt, a great friend that has always maintained the best of relationship with the United States, you are imposing your will on him," he said.

Shortly after his comments, Washington renewed its calls on the Egyptian army to show restraint. The protesters however showed no sign of backing down on their demand for Mubarak to go as tens of thousands of people filled Cairo's Tahrir Square well into the third week of a revolt.

Around a thousand marched on parliament to demand its members' resignation, vowing to remain until the legislature -- widely seen as unfairly dominated by the ruling party -- is dissolved.

Meanwhile, rights groups and demonstrators told Britain's Guardian newspaper that the army had secretly detained hundreds of anti-government protesters, some of whom were tortured.

"Their range is very wide, from people who were at the protests or detained for breaking curfew to those who talked back at an army officer or were handed over to the army for looking suspicious or for looking like foreigners," Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in Cairo, said.

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