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Lawyer: Egypt To Release 3 American Students

A court in Egypt has ordered the release of three U.S. students arrested during a protest in Cairo, a lawyer confirmed Thursday.

Derrik Sweeney, Luke Gates and Gregory Porter, who attend The American University in Cairo, were arrested on the roof of a university building near the city's Tahrir Square on Sunday. Officials accused them of throwing firebombs at security forces fighting with protesters.

Attorney Ted Simon, who represents the 19-year-old Porter, said he is still waiting to learn whether the students have been set free.

Sweeney's mother, Joy Sweeney, said she is "absolutely elated" at the news of her 19-year-old son's release.

"I can't wait to give him a huge hug and tell him how much I love him," she said, adding that the news of the court order was the best Thanksgiving gift.

Earlier Thursday, Egypt officials said a court had ordered the students' release. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. They did not say when the students would be released.

The news came as police and protesters agreed to a truce negotiated by Muslim clerics. Five days of fierce street battles have left nearly 40 people dead.

Egypt's military rulers apologized for the deaths of dozens of pro-democracy protesters and vowed to prosecute those responsible in its latest attempt to appease the tens of thousands who have taken to the streets demanding that the generals immediately step down.

But members of the ruling military council rejected protesters' demands that they step down immediately. They say doing so would betray the trust of the people who voted by popular demand to have them take over after president Hosni Mubarak was ousted earlier this year.

At a news conference Thursday, one council member said, "The [parliamentary] elections will be held on time with all of its three stages held on schedule."

The military's apology left many of the protesters unmoved.

"What we want to hear is when they're leaving," said Khaled Mahmoud, a protester who had a bandage on his nose after being hit by a tear gas canister.

The streets where the battles took place were almost entirely covered by debris, soot, abandoned shoes and scores of the surgical masks used by the protesters to fend off the police's tear gas.

"The army is like the police: A tool of suppression," said Mayada Khalaf, a female protester. "Where was the army when the shooting was going on?"

The fighting around Cairo's central Tahrir Square, which began Saturday, has been the longest spate of uninterrupted violence since the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11. It has deepened the country's economic and security woes ahead of the first parliamentary elections since Mubarak fell.

The military statement came two days after Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council that assumed control of the country after Mubarak stepped down, promised in a televised address to hold a presidential election in the first half of next year but did not offer an apology for the killings.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, as the military's ruling body is known, promised to do everything possible to stop the repeat of the deadly events.

Army troops, meanwhile, have used metal bars and barbed wire to build barricades to separate the protesters and the police on side streets leading from Tahrir to the nearby Interior Ministry. Most of the fighting took place on those streets.

The truce came into force around 6 a.m. It was negotiated by Muslim clerics at the site.

Protesters formed a series of human chains on the side streets to prevent anybody from violating the truce or approaching flashpoint areas close to the police lines.

"If any of you hurl a single rock, we will beat you to death," a young man warned, addressing angry young men who wanted to resume fighting. Others pleaded for calm, chanting "peaceful, peaceful."

The military's handling of the transitional period has been intensely criticized by rights groups and activists, who suspect the generals want to keep power even after a new parliament is seated and a new president is elected.

The Health Ministry raised its nationwide death toll since Saturday to 37, while the Elnadeem Center, an Egyptian rights group known for its careful research of victims of police violence, has said 38 were killed.

The clashes also have left at least 2,000 protesters wounded, mostly from gas inhalation or injuries caused by rubber bullets fired by the security forces. The police deny using live ammunition.

Tantawi brought forward the presidential election to the first six months of next year, but his offer and other conciliatory measures, including the release of more than 300 people detained in the protests, have been rejected by the throngs in Tahrir Square.

Despite the tenuous truce, thousands chanted Thursday "we are not leaving, he leaves," referring to Tantawi. Others chanted: "Go away marshal, Egypt will not be ruled by a field marshal."

This program aired on November 24, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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