Egypt Judges Demand Independent Judiciary

The Associated Press
Thursday, May 25, 2006; 3:07 PM

CAIRO, Egypt -- About 300 pro-reform judges staged a sit-in outside a downtown Cairo courthouse Thursday to demand the independence of Egypt's judiciary as thousands of riot police watched.

Scores of opposition activists organized separate protests in support of the judges and to mark the first anniversary of a referendum on a constitutional amendment that allowed multicandidate presidential elections for the first time.

In one of the protests, an estimated 70 activists _ from various groups including the pro-reform Kifaya movement, al-Ghad party and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood _ clapped and chanted anti-government slogans outside the headquarters of the Journalists' Union.

"Release our detained brothers!" they chanted, referring to activists arrested in earlier demonstrations. Some clutched yellow stickers reading "Kifaya" or "Enough," while others plastered their clothes with green stickers reading "Long Live Justice."

"Oh, our great people. The hour of salvation is near," one banner read.

Riot police in helmets and shields filled several streets around the courthouse and the union, but violence was on a much smaller scale than during protests in the previous two weeks.

Near the union's building, plainclothes police beat and arrested two activists, both of whom were only recently released after spending about a month in jail for taking part in a previous demonstration.

Up to 15 plainclothes security agents attacked one of the men, Mohammed el-Sharkawi, 24, and punched him to the ground before dragging him away.

Activists said another man, Kareem al-Sha'er, was leaving the Journalists' Union building in a private car when about 20 plainclothes officers stopped it, smashed its windows and dragged him away. Another activist in the same car, Ahmed Salah, was beaten but not detained.

The judges _ who demand independence from Egypt's executive branch and unfettered supervision of parliamentary and presidential elections _ wore green sashes and flashed V-for-victory signs in front of the courthouse.

In a similar protest in the southern province of Qena, police arrested a Kifaya member, Ashraf Abdel-Aziz, according to a colleague, Ahmed Taima. Some protesters there were beaten, Taima said.

In the Sinai Peninsula town of el-Arish on the Mediterranean, about 100 protesters _ including members of the leftist Tagammu opposition party and Kifaya _ took to the streets in support of the judges and against the year-old constitutional amendment.

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