Egypt frees ElBaradei protesters
Cairo - Egypt's authorities freed on Wednesday dozens of opposition activists linked to top opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei a day after their arrest for seeking to stage a demonstration to demand political reforms, officials said.
State prosecutor Abdel Majid Mahmud ordered the release of 33 people, including 17 students, earlier on Wednesday, a judicial official said. A security source said several others were freed late on Tuesday.
According to Egyptian and international non-governmental organisations, including New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), 91 people were arrested on Tuesday.
They are all members of the April 6 opposition group that has rallied to the recently formed National Association for Change of former UN nuclear watchdog chief ElBaradei.
On Tuesday, April 6 tried to organise a protest in Cairo to demand political and constitutional reforms as well as the lifting of emergency laws that have been enforced for nearly three decades.
But organisers said police beat up protesters and arrested them as they prevented them from marching to parliament from Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo.
"The police beat up protesters with clubs. We could not leave Tahrir. Policemen in civilian clothes prevented us," April 6's Esraa Abdel Fattah said on Tuesday, adding that "dozens" were arrested as they tried to flee.
The arrests and violence were condemned by Amnesty International and HRW on Tuesday, both of which also urged Egypt to lift laws on a state of emergency.
"This intimidation of opposition activists and government critics must end immediately," said Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart.
His counterpart at HRW, Sarah Leah Whitson, said: "Armed security officials supposedly in service to the Egyptian people are beating up its young women and men."
"The government should ensure that all these incidents of police brutality are fully investigated and announce an end to this thuggery," she added.
But the interior ministry denied any wrongdoing. It said security forces cracked down on the protesters because April 6 had tried to go ahead with a demonstration despite failing to obtain a permit.
"The measures (taken on Tuesday) came after the security services turned down a request by April 6 to hold marches and protests," the ministry said on Wednesday.
It also described April 6 as "unlawful", and said 33 protesters were arrested and held overnight for questioning because "10 officers and individuals were wounded" in clashes between the two sides.
April 6 was set up in 2008 to protest against cost-of-living increases. In recent weeks it allied with ElBaradei's new political party, which is campaigning for constitutional reforms ahead of 2011 presidential polls.
ElBaradei, 67, has said he is willing to stand against President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 on condition that the election is free and fair and that the constitution is revised to ease candidacy restrictions.
The 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner has emerged as Egypt's highest-profile opposition figure since he retired as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the end of last year.