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Police Crackdown Follows Peaceful Protests in Egypt


In Egypt, at least 300 pro-reform judges on Thursday stood in silent protest outside the high court, demanding an end to government interference in the judiciary. Several other peaceful protests also took place in Cairo, a change from previous weeks, when police violently broke up several demonstrations and arrested hundreds of reform activists. But, several protesters were severely beaten and detained after the demonstrations were over.

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 arrested by police and hired thugs.

It was only afterward, when most of the news media had left, that several protesters were grabbed from the streets, beaten and reportedly detained by police. Undercover security agents apparently targeted demonstrators who were recently released from prison after being detained during other protests over the last month.

An activist and journalist named Ahmed Salah, who was himself released from jail only a few days ago, told VOA that he and several colleagues were leaving the protest site in a car driven by a BBC journalist when it was attacked by a large group of men.

"They just attacked the car with stones and bottles of soda until they broke the glass windows and the windscreen," said Ahmed Salah. "They injured Dina Samak, the BBC correspondent, and they snatched this guy, Karim El-Shaer, who was one of the detainees they released. As they were dragging him, they were beating him and they threw him into a car, a police car."

Earlier, an Associated Press reporter witnessed another protester being severely beaten and dragged off by plainclothes agents.

Salah says all of the released detainees were warned not to attend any protests, but several of them had defied that order.

During the demonstration, one man stood on a barricade, directly addressing the riot police and plainclothes officers surrounding the chanting demonstrators.

"Shame on you," he told the officers. "Shame on you, this is not patriotism. This is not protecting Egypt's security." Then he said to the police: "You are the greatest danger to Egypt's security. You are the real danger."

Police arrested hundreds of demonstrators over the last month during protests and sit-ins in support of two judges who were hauled 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.

A number of the detained activists have been released over the last few days. But several hundred more, mostly members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, remain in jail.

The latest demonstrations marked the first anniversary of a controversial referendum, which was marred by violence against opposition activists.