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Army officers join Cairo protest

By Ivan Watson and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, CNN
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Protesters return to Tahrir Square
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Two Egyptian officers are forced to leave the square, a witness says
  • The number of demonstrators swells as the Muslim Brotherhood joins in
  • Groups are seeking prosecution of former President Hosni Mubarak
  • Mubarak's chief of staff has been arrested

Cairo (CNN) -- Throngs of people crowded into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday in an effort to inject new life into Egypt's revolution and push the country's ruling military council to prosecute the former president, Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down under immense popular pressure on February 11.

Compared with previous weeks, the protesters' ranks swelled, in part due to the addition of Egypt's long-banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, which had chosen not to participate in recent Friday protests.

There was another addition to the protest movement, one that marked a direct challenge to Egypt's military rulers.

Fifteen Egyptian soldiers and mid-level army officers joined the demonstration, flouting a ban issued Thursday by a military spokesman.

Several of the military personnel took to one of the stages erected in the crowded square and called for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to be dissolved and replaced by a civilian presidential council. The Supreme Council assumed legislative and executive authority over Egypt after Mubarak resigned.

The military personnel remained in the square into the evening.

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An army lieutenant colonel and a military police officer late Friday tried to walk to the center of square, but they were surrounded by demonstrators who chanted "get out, get out."

Within moments, members of the crowd began pushing the officers and knocking their hats off their heads.

The officers, apparently frightened, started running and were pursued out of the square.

Earlier this week, several military officers took to the internet, recording video statements accusing the chairman of the ruling council, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, of protecting Mubarak from prosecution and of leading a counterrevolutionary movement.

"If they really wanted to prosecute these corrupt officials they would have done it immediately. That's why we are here today," one of the protesting officers, told CNN.

On Thursday, Supreme Council spokesman Maj. Mohamed Askar told CNN that any military personnel who appeared in Tahrir Square in uniform would be immediately arrested and taken before a military tribunal.

On Friday, activists in Tahrir Square encircled the 15 protesting officers and soldiers as they walked through the crowd, protecting them from arrest or possible attacks.

One of the officers spoke on stage to the crowd, acknowledging he risked arrest but urging demonstrators to repeat the tactics of January and February by staging an overnight sit-in in Tahrir Square.

Egypt's interim government has investigated and arrested a growing number of officials from the former Mubarak regime in recent days. A former housing minister and Mubarak's long-time chief of staff, Zacharia Azmi, were both placed under arrest this week on corruption charges.

"All of these ministers you see, its nothing!" said Talat Sadat, a former parliament member and critic of Mubarak. "The revolution wants the president himself! Wants his wife, his son, his daughter!"

Mubarak has been living on his estate at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since he stepped down from office.

The Egyptian military rode a wave of popularity after troops refused to fire on pro-democracy protesters during 18 days of street protests. But in the weeks since, the secretive 20-man council has come under increasing criticism from different portions of the Egyptian political spectrum, amid complaints of human rights abuses and lack of transparency in its decision-making process.

Last week, more than 10,000 demonstrators peacefully protested in Tahrir Square, many of them heaping criticism on the ruling military council. But this week the numbers were boosted by Egypt's long-banned Muslim Brotherhood movement.

"The Muslim Brotherhood is joining the protest to support the demands of all the Egyptians who started this revolution, because we want to finish what we began," Dr. Jamal Nassar, a senior official in the Brotherhood, said Thursday. "We want the army to speed up the trials of all those involved in corruption from the Mubarak regime."