CAIRO — Egypt's civilian cabinet offered to resign Monday after three days of violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces in Tahrir Square, but the action failed to satisfy protesters deeply frustrated with the new military rulers.
Earlier on Monday, Cairo police fought protesters demanding an end to army rule for a third day and morgue officials told Reuters the death toll had risen to 33, making it the worst spasm of violence since the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt's ruling military council accepted the cabinet's resignation, Al-Jazeera television reported, citing unnamed sources. That report has not been confirmed by other news organizations.
Throughout the day, young protesters demanding the military hand over power to a civilian government fought with black-clad police, hurling stones and firebombs and throwing back the tear gas canisters being fired by police into the square, which was the epicenter of the movement that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
Tens of thousands in square
By midnight tens of thousands of protesters were in the huge downtown square.
The clashes have deepened the disarray among Egypt's political ranks, with the powerful Muslim Brotherhood balking at joining in the demonstrations, fearing that turmoil will disrupt elections next week that the Islamists expect to dominate.
The protests in Tahrir and elsewhere across this nation of some 85 million people have forced the ruling military council as well as the cabinet it backs into two concessions, but neither were significant enough to send anyone home.
The council issued an anti-graft law that bans anyone convicted of corruption from running for office or holding a government post, a move that is likely to stop senior members from the Mubarak regime from running for public office.
Hours later, the cabinet of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf submitted its resignation to the council, a move that was widely expected given the government's perceived inefficiency and its almost complete subordination to the generals.
Protesters cheered and shouted "God is great!" when the news arrived of the Cabinet resignation offer, but they almost immediately resumed their chant of "The people want to topple the field marshal" — a reference to military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
"We are not clearing the square until there is a national salvation government that is representative and has full responsibility," said activist Rami Shaat, who was at the site.
The council released a statement late Monday calling for a national dialogue to "urgently study the reasons for the current crisis and ways to overcome it."
The statement, carried by Egypt's state news agency, said the military deeply regrets the loss of life and has ordered the Justice Ministry to form a committee to investigate the incidents of the past few days. The military said it ordered security forces to take measures that would protect demonstrators, who have the right to peaceful protest.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States was deeply concerned about the violence and urged restraint on all sides so Egypt could proceed with a timely transition to democracy.
Election next week
The bloodshed in and around Cairo's Tahrir Square, epicenter of the anti-Mubarak revolt, threatens to disrupt Egypt's first free parliamentary election in decades, due to start next week.
Clashes have raged on and off since police used batons and tear gas to try to disperse a sit-in in Tahrir on Saturday.
Demonstrations were also taking place in Alexandria, Ismailia, Suez and Al Arish in Sinai, NBC News' Richard Engel reported from Cairo on Monday. Protesters vowed to organize a "million man" march in Cairo on Tuesday.
Protesters have brandished bullet casings in the square, but police deny using live fire. Medical sources at Cairo's main morgue said 33 corpses had been received there since Saturday, most of them with bullet wounds. At least 1,250 people have been wounded, a Health Ministry source said.
"I've seen the police beat women my mother's age. I want military rule to end," said 21-year-old Mohamed Gamal. "I will just go home in the evening to change my clothes and return."
Islamists dominated demonstrations against army rule on Friday, but the unrest in Tahrir since then has drawn in many of the young activists who helped topple Mubarak on February 11.
Army generals were feted for their part in easing him out, but hostility to their rule has hardened since, especially over attempts to set new constitutional principles that would keep the military permanently beyond civilian control.
Police attacked a makeshift hospital in the square after dawn on Monday but were driven back by protesters hurling chunks of concrete from smashed pavements, witnesses said.
"Don't go out there, you'll end up martyrs like the others," protesters told people emerging from a metro station at Tahrir Square, where about 4,000 had gathered by midday.Video: Violence returns to Egypt’s Tahrir Square (on this page)
'No going back'
"There is clearly no going back as you can see this violence cannot be swept under the table," said Essam Gouda, a protester in Tahrir, who said two marches were due to converge there by mid-afternoon.
"We aim to control the entry points to the square so that security doesn't block protesters from entering," said Essam.Story: Egypt in uproar after blogger posts nude photos
The violence casts a pall over the first round of voting in Egypt's staggered and complex election process, which starts on November 28 in Cairo and elsewhere. The army says the polls will go ahead, but the unrest could deter voters in the capital.
Some Egyptians, including Islamists who expect to do well in the vote, say the ruling army council may be stirring insecurity to prolong its rule, a charge the military denies.
Political uncertainty has gripped Egypt since Mubarak's fall, while sectarian clashes, labor unrest, gas pipeline sabotage and a gaping absence of tourists have paralyzed the economy and prompted a widespread yearning for stability.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday that the U.S. is deeply concerned about the violence and is calling for restraint on all sides. He said despite the clashes between security forces and protesters, Egypt must proceed with a timely transition to democracy.
Egypt's state news agency MENA said 63 flights to and from Cairo had been canceled because of the latest unrest.
The military plans to keep its presidential powers until a new constitution is drawn up and a president is elected in late 2012 or early 2013. Protesters want a much swifter transition.
The army said on Monday it had intervened in central Cairo to protect the Interior Ministry, not to clear demonstrators from nearby Tahrir Square, whom it also offered to protect.
"The protesters have a right to protest, but we must stand between them and the Interior Ministry," said General Saeed Abbas. "The armed forces will continue in their plans for parliamentary elections and securing the vote."
The Interior Ministry, in charge of a police force widely hated for its heavy-handed tactics in the anti-Mubarak revolt, has been a target for protesters demanding police reform.
"Unfortunately the Interior Ministry still deals with protests with the same security mentality as during Mubarak's administration," said military analyst Safwat Zayaat.
The latest street clashes show the depth of frustration, at least in Cairo and some other cities, at the pace of change.
"Military rule is defunct, defunct," crowds chanted. "Freedom, freedom."
Internet clips, which could not be verified, showed police beating protesters with sticks, pulling them by the hair and, in one case, dumping what looked like a body on a rubbish heap.
Residents reacted angrily when police fired tear gas into a crowd gathered below a burning building 200 meters (yards) from Tahrir Square, hindering the rescue of trapped residents.
Outside the burning apartment building, protesters chanted "Tantawi burned it and here are the revolutionaries," referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's defense minister for two decades and leader of the army council.
"I don't want Tantawi ... I am staying tonight," said Ayman Ramadan, a data entry clerk, said early on Monday morning.
Doctors in orange vests were treating casualties on pavements in the middle of Tahrir.
Presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a Salafi Islamist, told protesters: "We are demanding as the minimum that power be handed over within six months."
Presidential hopefuls Mohamed ElBaradei and Abdallah al-Ashaal denounced violence against protesters and called for a national salvation government, MENA said.
Liberal groups are dismayed by the military trials of thousands of civilians and the army's failure to scrap a hated emergency law. Islamists eyeing a strong showing in the next parliament suspect the army wants to curtail their influence.
Analysts say Islamists could win 40 percent of assembly seats, with a big portion going to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report