Protesters head to Cairo’s Tahrir ahead of mass rally

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Protesters headed to Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday, joining hundreds already camped out there, ahead of a mass rally to demand democratic change, a year after the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

Marches will leave Cairo’s mosques after noon prayers and set off for Tahrir, on a day dubbed “the Friday of Pride and Dignity” by the 27 pro-democracy groups organising the rallies.

Protests are also expected in other parts of the country, including the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the canal city of Suez.

Friday’s rallies mark a year since the army was deployed to control the deadly protests calling for an end to Mubarak’s regime.

The military took power when Mubarak resigned on February 11, in a dramatic turn of events for the Arab world’s most populous nation who had known the same president for 30 years.

But a year later, many are disenchanted and even angry at the ruling military, who protesters accuse of human rights abuses and of reneging on promises of reform.

“Leave!” the independent daily Al-Fagr told the military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s longtime defence minister.

Friday’s rally is to send “the military back to the barracks” the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm said on its front page.

In Tahrir, protesters crowded around the centre of the square where tents have been pitched to mark the sit-in, carrying signs and chanting slogans for the ouster of the ruling military.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has vowed to cede power to civilian rule by June when a new president has been elected, and has repeatedly pointed to recent parliamentary elections — which saw Islamists sweep most of the seats — as proof of its intention to abandon politics.

But protesters accuse the military of seeking to maintain some degree of control over the country’s affairs, even after June.

On Tuesday, Tantawi announced the partial lifting of a decades-old state of emergency in an apparent bid to placate protesters.

But he said the law would still apply to cases of “thuggery”, a move slammed by human rights groups and activists who say the term is too broad and gives authorities free rein to stifle freedoms.

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