Cairo - An Egyptian army commander addressed thousands of demonstrators camped out at Tahrir Square in central Cairo on Saturday in an effort to persuade them to stop a protest that has stalled economic life in the capital.

“You all have the right to express yourselves but please save what is left of Egypt. Look around you,” Hassan al-Roweny said using a loud speaker and standing on a podium.

The crowd responded with shouts that President Hosni Mubarak should resign, at which Roweny stepped down saying: “I will not speak amid such chants.”

Earlier, troops moved some of the demonstrators to make way for traffic to flow again.

Several thousand people thronged the square on Saturday, many of whom had been camped out for days with banners and flags. Egypt's working week starts on Sunday, when banks are due to reopen.

“We need to clear the road in the square, we need traffic to flow again through Tahrir. The people can stay in Tahrir, but not on the road,” al-Roweny said on a tour of the square to talk to protesters.

A cordon of soldiers created a space in the middle of the traffic hub, separating the protesters near the Egyptian museum end of the square from the rest.

There was a mixed reaction from protesters, who have had cordial relations with the military during 12 days of demonstrations.

At one point they began banging on barricades they had set up near the museum to alert others to reinforce them, fearing an army effort to push them back.

“The army is doing the job of the NDP,” said Sayyid Hamdy, referring to Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party. “It wants to separate the protesters, it wants to make Tahrir look like it's back to normal so that the world thinks the protesters have been satisfied and left the square.”

Supporters of Mubarak have clashed with the protesters since Wednesday, leaving 11 dead and more than 1,000 wounded. The army set up reinforcements to protect the area and the protesters have their checkpoints at all entry points.

Khalid Abdalla, a 30-year-old actor, said he was staying: “I think with or without Mubarak, the next six months will be complicated, and I think we're better off without him.” - Reuters