ElBaradei leads Egypt protest

2010-06-25 22:17

Alexandria - Mohamed ElBaradei, the ex-atomic watchdog chief turned Egyptian dissident, led thousands of protesters in the northern city of Alexandria on Friday demanding an end to police brutality.

ElBaradei emerged from the Muslim weekly prayers in Alexandria's Sidi Gaber district to rapturous applause from a 4 000-strong crowd chanting "Change" and holding posters of 28-year-old Khaled Said who was allegedly killed this month at the hands of police officers.

ElBaradei, who had earlier visited Said's family to offer condolences, struggled to move through the crowd as protesters rushed to reach him, some kissing his hands, others patting him on the back.

Hundreds of police and anti-riot forces surrounded the protesters, who represented several political groups including the pro-reform April 6 youth movement and the banned opposition Muslim Brotherhood, as well as prominent activists and opposition politicians and ordinary citizens.

Protesters held up signs reading: "Our condolences to Freedom" and "Long Live Egypt". Others chanted "Down with (President Hosni) Mubarak".

They demanded the ouster of Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, who they say has failed to bring to justice those accused of torture.

The Alexandria demonstration was the latest in a series of protests following Said's death.

According to witnesses, Said was killed on June 6 when plainclothes policemen dragged him out of an Internet cafe and beat him to death on a busy Alexandria street.

Disturbing images
 
Egypt's interior ministry said he had died from asphyxiation after swallowing a bag of narcotics when approached by officers.

But rights groups have rejected the official account, and Said has since become a symbol for rights activists against police brutality, for which Egypt has been criticised at home and abroad.

Disturbing images of Said's battered and bruised face have appeared on social networking websites, sparking public outcry and condemnation from local and international rights groups.

Several protests have broken out around the country since Said's death, demanding his alleged torturers be brought to justice.

Opposition members and political activists have argued that the incident is proof that Egypt's decades-old emergency law, which was renewed last month for a further two years, has created a legacy of police impunity.

ElBaradei, 68, has emerged as Egypt's most high-profile reform champion since his retirement from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency last year.

His appearance at the Alexandria protest is considered a powerful comeback following weeks away from the public eye, amid criticism that his campaign had run out of steam.

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