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Normal life begins to return in Cairo

CAIRO, Feb 6 – The Egyptian military on Sunday reinforced its presence around Cairo\’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of anti-regime protests, as a semblance of normal life returned to the Egyptian capital.

As demonstrators staged a 13th day of protests against Egypt\’s President Hosni Mubarak, banks began to reopen, and streets that have been nearly devoid of traffic filled up with vehicles, causing traffic jams.

Protesters celebrated a mass in the square to remember the estimated 300 people who have been killed since demonstrations against Mubarak began.

"God bless the dead, God bless the dead," recited a Coptic priest wearing a crucifix. By his side, a Muslim sheikh stood holding a Koran, as the faithful chanted "a single hand, a single hand" in a show of interfaith solidarity.

At the edge of Tahrir, the military took up a position on the October 6 bridge, where days earlier pro-regime protesters had thrown stones and Molotov cocktails at anti-Mubarak demonstrators.

And they deployed soldiers close to the Egyptian museum, though they left in place barricades set up anti-Mubarak protesters to protect themselves from regime partisans.

The military also boosted the number of soldiers manning the entrance points to the square, as a handful of the thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir on Sunday morning sat around their tanks in an effort to prevent them from moving.

Demonstrators fear that if the army departs they could face new attacks by regime supporters, and also that military movement could be a prelude to attempts to clear them from the central square.

Outside the square, normal life was gradually returning, the air once again full of the sounds of car horns as people went back to work, causing traffic jams throughout the city.

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Car parks were full, and beggars could be seen on the streets again.

Police, who disappeared from Cairo\’s streets after violent clashes with demonstrators, have also returned, manning street corners and traffic circles.

With their return, the so-called popular committees that have been standing guard in residential neighbourhoods to protect against looters have been greatly reduced.

Banks reopened across the city, and Egyptians queued to access their accounts for the first time. The central bank has limited the daily personal cash withdrawals that Egyptians can make from banks to 50,000 Egyptian pounds, or 10,000 dollars.

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