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Middle East
Egyptians march to honour 'Friday of Rage'
Thousands gather in Cairo one year after uprising, as US urges military rulers to lift travel ban for NGO workers.
Last Modified: 27 Jan 2012 21:01
Demonstrators filled Tahrir Square to honour the anniversary of last yesterday of Rage' [AFP/Khaled Desouki]

Tens of thousands of protesters have rallied across the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to mark the first anniversary of the "Friday of Rage", a key day in the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak last year.

Demonstrators began to converge in the capital's Tahrir Square, the focal point of protests, after Muslim noon prayers, on a day dubbed the "Friday of Pride and Dignity" by the dozens of pro-democracy groups organising the rallies.

"Down with military rule!", shouted demonstrators, who waved flags and banners and chanted slogans against the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).


Tensions erupted at one point when one march of hundreds of protesters headed towards the ministry of defence building. It was later met by dozens of supporters of the military.

The pro-military protesters formed a human chain across an intersection, but the marchers pushed through them, shouting "down with military rule", The Associated Press news agency reported.

On last year's "Friday of Rage", Mubarak's security forces fired on protesters who marched into Tahrir, killing and wounding hundreds. Mubarak is currently on trial in Cairo, facing charges of involvement in the killing of protesters.

In Tahrir on Friday, Sheikh Mazhar Shahin, the imam of the Omar Makram mosque located within the square, called for faster retribution for the deaths of protesters last year.

"People came out on January 25, 2011, to call for freedom, justice, dignity and the end of a regime that spread all forms of corruption," Shahin told the crowd, referencing the date of the start of the uprising.

"We demanded the resignation of the regime, but after a year passed on the revolution, I'm asking; did the regime
actually resign?" Shahin said.

"The revolution is continuous, we need a swifter purge of media and political trials for those who killed the protesters. I'm supporting you."

Divided on message

However, Islamists and liberal, secular-leaning protesters appeared to be divided over the message they were trying to send on Friday.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which swept the majority of seats in recently concluded elections for the new lower house of parliament with its Freedom and Justice Party, occupied a part of the square where the mood was celebratory.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters and others note that the military council, which took over after Mubarak stepped down, has pledged to hand over power to civilian rule after presidential elections by late June.

On the other side of Tahrir, the chants were strongly anti-military and some shouted against the Brotherhood, yelling "Get off the stage" to Brotherhood supporters who set up a platform in the square.

The Brotherhood supporters attempted to drown out the chants by blaring the national anthem and religious recordings from loudspeakers.

The tensions erupted into scuffles between Brotherhood supporters and liberal protesters at one point, the AP reported, with each side hurling rocks and bottles at each other in the square. There were no immediate reports of injury.

Travel restrictions

As the events to mark the anniversary of the 18-day uprising continued, the US state department called on Egypt to lift travel restrictions on several Americans working for non-governmental organisations (NGO), many of whom were in Egypt to monitor recent elections.

Washington asked SCAF to stop "endangering American lives" after six Americans working for publicly funded US organisations were barred from leaving the country.

"We are urging the government of Egypt to lift these restrictions immediately and allow these folks to come home as soon as possible," Victoria Nuland, a state department spokeswoman, said on Thursday.

"We are trying to get them free to travel as soon as possible, and we're hopeful that we can resolve this in coming days," she said.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said: "Relations between Cairo and Washington have been strained, to say the least, since last month’s raid on a number of foreign-funded, including American-funded, NGOs, when their offices were ransacked and computers and data taken," she said.

"Now it seems a number of those NGO employees are under investigation, and that is where travel bans come in."

'Dire economic situation'

Among those hit by travel bans is Sam LaHood, a son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, as well as other foreign staffers of the US-funded NGOs, International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, officials at the two organisations said.

The travel ban was part of an Egyptian criminal investigation into foreign-funded democracy organisations after soldiers raided the offices of 10 such groups last month, including those of two American groups.

Washington has indicated it may review the $1.3bn it gives the Egyptian military each year if the probe into alleged breaches of local regulations went on.

"Egypt is in dire economic situation and is really in need of the $1.3bn aid that is usually provided on a yearly base," our correspondent said.

"All of this comes at a time when the US Congress is debating $1.3bn aid deal and putting a lot of pressure through legislation on the state department to make sure that Egypt’s transition to democracy is going in right direction," she said.

"It doesn’t come as good news for relations [US-Egypt] and even domestically, because what it shows is the growing xenophobia of military rulers here who have blamed any event they don’t like on the ground on these "foreign hands" or so-called foreign elements much like the regime before them did."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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