Sharon was invited by Egyptian president Husni Mubarak for a landmark summit with Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas, which was also attended by Jordan's King Abd Allah.

University students staged demonstrations on campuses across the country and the journalists' syndicate organised a two-hour sit-in at its headquarters in downtown Cairo to register disapproval at the visit.

Flags burnt

About 350 students burned Israeli and American flags and shouted out slogans against Sharon. One banner read: "Receiving Sharon is a shame on Egypt."

The protests followed others that took place on Monday and involved thousands of students at Zagazig University in the Delta region and Alexandria University on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

"Out, out, Sharon. Our country Egypt will remain free," the students had chanted at Alexandria University, as hundreds of security forces and riot police cordoned off the campus to contain the protests inside.

Media outcry

Across campuses, crowds heard speeches that urged Arab countries to "take measures against this cowardly criminal", saying he had Arab blood on his hands and that his visit would profane Egyptian soil.

Alexandria University students
protested against Sharon's visit

Opposition newspapers decried the visit, with one calling it a "desecration of Egyptian territories". Political activists characterised his invitation as a bow to US pressure.

Arabs point to Sharon as responsible for the 1982 massacre in Lebanon's Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, where hundreds of Palestinian refugees were killed by Israeli-allied militiamen.

Sharon was defence minister at the time, but resigned after an Israeli commission of inquiry found him indirectly responsible for the massacre.

Demands issued

Students also telephoned Khalid Mishaal, head of the politburo of the Islamic Palestinian group Hamas, to address the students and he told them "resistance was the choice of the Palestinians".
 
Before dispersing, the students read out a list of demands they said they wanted the government to meet.
 
It included a demand that it scrap the visit to Egypt of the "butcher Sharon" and a call on the Egyptian government not to name a new ambassador to Israel.
 
It further urged the government to support the Palestinian resistance and an appeal to President Mubarak not to visit Israel.