The police charged a group of about 60 protesters as they made their way to a subway station after a two-hour demonstration outside the Church of the Virgin Mary in Zeitoun, a low-to-middle income district on Wednesday 

Mohammed el-Sharqawi, who was leading the group in a chant of "Down with Mubarak," said the riot police struck out left, right and centre with their nightsticks. He did not know how many protesters were assaulted.

"They started hitting so hard, I fainted and I don't remember what happened next," el-Sharqawi, 23, told reporters. "My face is bruised, my side and back hurt too."

Main demo peaceful

Police officials declined to comment on the incident. The main demonstration passed off peacefully, with about 300 pro-reform activists chanting anti-government slogans and holding banners outside the church.

They were cordoned off by more than 1,000 riot police. Plainclothes security officials filmed the protesters.

"They started hitting so hard, I fainted and I don't remember what happened next"

Mohammed el-Sharqawi, protester

Many of the demonstrators, in their 20s, held a banner bearing a picture of Mubarak with a stripe across his face. Superimposed on the stripe were the words: "24 years of poverty and oppression."

Some of the protesters asked the Virgin Mary to "tell Mubarak to leave, tell him we've had enough." "O pharaoh of our time," they chanted, "we don't want you to rule Egypt."

Threat

The protesters also called Mubarak "a coward who will meet Sadat's fate" -a reference to President Anwar Sadat who was shot dead by Islamic extremists in 1981.

The protest was organized by the "Kifaya" movement and the Popular Campaign for Change. Kifaya, or "Enough" in English, has led the recent series of pro-democratic protests. The Popular Campaign is a group of mainly left-wing activists. Members of the banned Labour Party also took part.

Several hundred people watched the protest from the other side of the street. People on balconies in apartment buildings waved their support to the protesters.

"You never used to see this in the streets of Cairo," said bystander Khaled Hami, 47. 
    
Further protests

"I think this is a healthy thing," he said, adding that more people would take part if they were not too busy making ends meet. "A lot of people have sympathy. Maybe they would do the same if their conditions didn't stop them." 

The protestors are from the 
opposition Kefaya group

Later, in another part of Cairo, Egyptian opposition groups staged further anti-government protests, calling for an end to emergency laws and the removal of President Hosni Mubarak. 
   
The authorities, who last week faced unprecedented US criticism over political rights, let the Tagammu Party protesters march from their headquarters through one of the busiest squares in Cairo and down a main road near parliament.
   
"We want a free government. Life has become bitter," chanted the protesters.
   
Protesters demands

The demonstrators called for the number of terms an Egyptian can serve as president to be limited to two and demanded an end to emergency laws in place since 1981.
   
Some briefly chanted against any extension of Mubarak's rule or a transfer of power to his son Gamal.

With presidential and parliament elections due later this year, Egypt has seen an unprecedented spate of protests calling for an end to the rule of the 77-year-old Mubarak.

Although he came to power in 1981, on the death of Sadat, he is widely expected to stand again. Earlier this year pro-Mubarak campaign posters were erected in Cairo.