Protesters demonstrated in Cairo, Alexandria and at a Nile Delta university on Wednesday, but large numbers of police officers stopped the participants from reaching the parliament in Cairo, their main target.

About 400 protesters, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, walked about 1.5km across Cairo from the police cordon at parliament to the Press Syndicate, where they chanted slogans against President Husni Mubarak on the building's steps.

"Enough, enough," they sang, using a familiar opposition refrain against a new term for the veteran Egyptian leader, who has been in office since 1981. Members of the growing opposition call their movement Kifaya, or enough.

Egyptian police arrested 23 protesters, but 20 have since been released, Aljazeera's Hussain Abd al-Ghani reported.

No to Mubarak

About 2000 students demonstrated at Mansura University in the Nile Delta. Groups of police barred them from leaving the campus. Some 500 student protesters at Alexandria University were also confined to the campus.

In central Alexandria's Menshiya Square, about 300 people took part in a demonstration, carrying banners reading "No to corruption. No to unemployment. No to Mubarak", according to protester Wafa al-Masri.

Two members of the Kifaya movement were detained in Alexandria. Police confirmed the detentions without elaborating.

The protesters took to the streets despite a warning by director of Cairo police Major-General Nabil al-Izabi on Tuesday that the police would strictly enforce the emergency laws that forbid unauthorised protests.

Credibility gap

The editor-in-chief of the Nasserite daily newspaper Al-Arabi said the protests were driven by a growing distrust of the government. "There is a huge credibility gap between the ruling regime and public opinion," Abd al-Halim Qandil said.

Earlier, police said patience with
protesters was wearing thin

He said the movement was not based on a particular opposition grouping.

"The Kifaya movement is neither a political party nor a front for a group of parties. It is a democratic forum, a general civic framework and a finger that points to the right path," Qandil said.

Mubarak's decision last month to open presidential elections to more than one candidate has fuelled the drive for political change, he said, adding that he expects protests to grow.

"A political struggle is raging on the right to organise protest rallies... Now demonstrators from every political movement will be more determined to stand in the face of repression," Qandil said.

Ruling party's pick

Also on Wednesday, Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party announced it wanted Mubarak to be its candidate for the presidential elections later this year.

Safwat el-Sherif, the party's secretary-general, said 76-year-old Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981, would put off announcing his candidacy until after a referendum in May on a constitutional amendment allowing multi-candidate presidential elections.

"The National Democratic Party insists on adhering to the nomination of President Husni Mubarak as a sincere, national leader ... and president for the Egyptian nation," Egypt's official Middle East News Agency quoted Sherif as saying.

Mubarak has strongly hinted that he will stand for a fifth six-year term. It has been speculated that Jamal, the president's son, might succeed his father as leader.

But Jamal, a leading figure in the ruling party, said last week that he was not a candidate.