Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square defy curfew

Demonstrations now in 7th day; army reportedly says it won't harm protesters; State Dept. apparently responsible for journalists' release.

Tahrir Square crowds protesters 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Tahrir Square crowds protesters 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Around 250,000 protesters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square Monday afternoon as anti-government protests continued for the seventh day, the pan-Arab 24-hour news network  Al-Jazeera reported.
Protesters ignored the state-imposed curfew which began at 3 p.m. as a coalition of opposition groups called for a million people to take to the streets Tuesday to demand the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the clearest sign yet that a unified leadership was emerging for Egypt's powerful but disparate protest movement.
RELATED:PM fears Egypt will fall into hands of Islamic radicalsEU urges Egypt: Seek peaceful shift to democracyPeres: Israel has great respect for Egyptian presidentMubarak swears in new cabinet as protests continue
On its bottom-screen ticker, Egyptian state television quoted a message from the Egyptian army saying that they will not use force against the Egyptian people, CNN reported Monday evening through its Twitter feed.
The message from the Egyptian army came as one of the largest protests yet was taking place in Cairo's central Tahrir Square.
The New York Times, however, said via its Twitter feed that one of its photographers reported rubber bullets being fired in Egypt Monday evening.
It was not clear exactly where the the incident was taking place.
Monday, Al-Jazeera reported that six of its journalists were in Egyptian custody after authorities ordered the closure of the network's Cairo office. By mid-afternoon, the network reported via Twitter that the six were released but that authorities had seized their equipment.
A Washington Post report Monday evening claimed that the journalists' release was secured by pressure from the US State Department. The Qatar-based network said the journalists were working for its English-language channel — a sister operation to the flagship Arabic service.
The detentions came a day after Egyptian authorities shut Al-Jazeera's office, complaining its round-the-clock coverage was slanted toward protesters and could encourage more unrest which has reached its seventh day.
Al-Jazeera denounced the closure as an attempt to muzzle open reporting as anti-government demonstrations and protests continued. The network had managed to continue coverage in Egypt with fixed-position cameras and reports by phone.
Also on Monday, EU Foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said that the European Union "stands ready to assist Egypt now and, of course, into the future."
She called on Egyptian police forces to show restraint in order to avoid further violence and loss of life. Ashton called for open dialogue between the Egyptian leadership and the opposition parties.
"The legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people should be responded to – their aspirations for a just, for a better future should be met with urgent, concrete and decisive answers and with real steps," Ashton stated.
On Monday morning, Egyptian helicopters were sighted flying above Tahrir Square, CNN reported.