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Egyptian Protests Gain New Momentum

Egyptian lawyers in black robes stream into Cairo's Tahrir Square, February 10, 2011

Egyptian lawyers in black robes stream into Cairo's Tahrir Square, February 10, 2011

Thousands of Egyptian doctors and medical students say they will join anti-government protests in Egypt Thursday, part a new momentum that has prompted the government to further step up security at key government buildings, including the presidential palace.

The growing numbers of demonstrators and the increased military presence on the streets of the capital are raising questions of how long the army can play a largely neutral role in the upheaval.

Thousands of workers across the nation are staging a second day of strikes to protest low pay and poor working conditions. New groups, many of them professionals, are joining the political demonstrations, now in their 17th day.

Protesters remain camped out in front of the parliament building, an apparent new attempt to move their call to action beyond the focal point of Tahrir Square. More tanks were stationed Thursday along the roads near the presidential palace in Heliopolis, east of the city center. Demonstrators have repeatedly said they plan to march on the palace to demand President Hosni Mubarak resign.

But top leaders have warned against any sudden political change,and are engaging in a slow-going dialogue with a few representatives of the opposition. Vice President Omar Suleiman has said the only alternative to talks would be a coup.

The veiled warning of military intervention has been reinforced by Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. In an interview carried by state media, Gheit said the military could be forced to defend the constitution and national security. If that were to happen, he added, Egypt would find itself in an extremely serious situation.