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Egyptian Judges Stage Sit-In


At least 300 pro-reform judges in Egypt stood in silent protest outside the high court to demand an end to government interference in the judiciary. Several other peaceful protests took place in Cairo, a change from previous weeks, when police violently broke up several demonstrations and arrested hundreds of reform activists.

After their silent protest on the steps of the High Court, the judges, wearing ceremonial red sashes, marched to the Judges' Club, passing by another demonstration on the steps of the Journalists' Syndicate next door.

The judges' protest might have been silent, but the crowd of 200 other demonstrators erupted into cheers and wild applause when the judges arrived.

The protesters were out to show their support for the reformist judges, who have been waging a battle for judicial independence. The judiciary has become a symbol for Egypt's reform movement.

For the first time in more than a month, activists were able to chant slogans denouncing the government, without being attacked, beaten or detained by police and hired thugs.

The protest was raucous, but peaceful. There were at least five times as many riot police as there were protesters, as well as several-hundred of the plainclothes agents, who were blamed for much of the violence against demonstrators in recent weeks. But this time, they let the protests continue.

Thursday's demonstration also coincided with the first anniversary of a referendum, when voting was marred by violence against opposition activists.

Fuad Kamel of the Kifaya movement says, "I came here today to commemorate the slaughter of the 'black day', the 25th of May, 2005, the black day of the referendum."

The police cordon surrounding the demonstration was four officers deep, and there were scores of heavy transport vehicles full of reinforcements lining the streets of downtown.

For several hours, they refused to let anyone leave the steps of the building, trapping the protesters and several journalists in the blazing sun.

One protester directly addressed the security officers.

"Shame on you", he tells the officers over and over. "Shame on you, this is not patriotism. This is not protecting Egypt's security." Then he says to the police, "You are the greatest danger to Egypt's security. You are the real danger."

Police arrested hundreds of demonstrators over the past month, during protests and sit-ins in support of two judges who were taken before a disciplinary hearing, after going public with allegations of fraud in last year's parliamentary election. The vicious crackdown provoked criticism of the Egyptian government by the United States and the European Union.

Several hundred of the detained activists, mostly members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, remain in jail. But a number have been released during the past few days.

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