Middle East
Thousands rally in Egypt's Tahrir Square
Protesters gather in support of the Palestinian cause and national unity, a week after deadly sectarian clashes.
Last Modified: 13 May 2011 19:06
Activists have called on Egyptians to demonstrate against sectarianism [Adam Makary]

Thousands of people have gathered in Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, rallying for different causes. 

Activists had called for a mass show of unity on Friday, a week after 15 people were killed in sectarian violence in the country.

But many of those gathered in the square were there to show their support for Palestinian unity, ahead of "Nakba day", marking the creation of the state of Israel and displacement of thousands of Palestinians.

Demonstrators also celebrated the reconciliation deal signed recently between Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian factions.

Meanwhile, a few hundred Copts staged a sit-in outside the state television headquarters, calling for justice over the weekend's sectarian violence.

Footage from Tahrir Square showed people waving Palestinian flags and banners with slogans for Egyptian national unity.

Call for Gaza march

Activists have called for a march to neighbouring Gaza at the weekend, to protest against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

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The interior ministry has urged them to cancel the march and Khaled Meshaal, the head of the political bureau of Hamas, said that for the time being, Egyptians are not "required" to march to the Gaza Strip in support of the Palestinian cause.

Egyptian authorities on Friday blocked access to the Sinai peninsula to prevent a march from Cairo to Gaza.

The march was due to leave from Cairo's Tahrir Square on Saturday to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and call for the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the release of all Palestinian prisoners.

"Peace Bridge", one of the main access routes to Sinai from mainland Egypt, has been closed to everyone aside from residents of the peninsula.

The army also stepped up security around the peninsula, a security official said.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo to demand the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the severance of ties with the Jewish state.

Sectarian violence

"Bring down the flag" the protesters chanted as army and police officers stepped up security around the building housing the embassy in the suburb of Maadi.

Sectarian clashes erupted in Cairo last Saturday after Muslims surrounded a church demanding the handover of a woman they said Christians had detained after she converted to Islam.

Another church was set on fire and in addition to those killed, scores were wounded.

The unrest prompted the military to arrest more than 200 people it said would be swiftly tried.

The young Egyptian woman who was the source of the dispute was arrested on Thursday and charged with marrying more than one husband, a judicial source said.

Abeer Talaat Fakhry, 26, was living with her Christian husband in the southern city of Assiut when she ran away from home, converted to Islam and informally married Yassin Thabet, a Muslim.

The violence was been blamed on Salafists, members of a hardline, puritanical Islamic movement.

Tensions have been building for the past year, as Salafists protested the alleged abduction by the Coptic Church of a priest's wife, Camilla Shehata. The Salafists claim she converted to Islam to escape an unhappy marriage, a phenomenon they maintain is common.

Copts account for up to 10 per cent of the country's 80 million people.

Protesters pardoned

Egypt's military rulers said on Friday they would review legal procedures used to try young activists detained after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February, and free some.

The move meets some of the demands made by anti-corruption activists who staged sit-in strikes in March and April to push for Mubarak and other former top government officials be put on trial.

Many demonstrators had accused the army of arresting anti-corruption protesters in March and April when they defied a military curfew and camped out in Tahrir square.

"The Egyptian Supreme Military Council will review the legal procedures of the trials of all the revolution's youths, especially those arrested in March and April," the council said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.

"All honest youths of the revolution will immediately be freed."

The army has enjoyed broad support since taking control on February 11 after Mubarak stepped down but there has been increasing complaints that while some protesters were still being held, it was foot-dragging in bringing Mubarak to trial.
Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst, said the military council may have intended to please the general public and "assure them that it is still listening to them and cares to see justice done".

Al Jazeera and agencies
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