Egyptian police beat protesters calling for constitutional reforms, confiscate media cameras

By Paul Schemm, AP
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Egypt police violently disperse pro-reform protest

CAIRO — Egyptian police on Tuesday beat and dragged off protesters to disperse a gathering of a few dozen in downtown Cairo calling for constitutional reforms and fairer presidential elections.

Protesters managed to briefly assemble in front of the upper house of parliament chanting “freedom” and calling for changes in the constitution before plainclothes police and anti-riot squads attacked them.

Plainclothes officers dragged demonstrators out of the crowd and threw them into waiting trucks. Young women among the protesters collapsed on the ground, weeping after their friends were taken away.

Police later pursued smaller groups of protesters through Cairo streets, knocking them down and arresting them if they attempted to chant. Demonstrations are illegal under Egypt’s three-decade old emergency law. Media crews were also attacked and photographers’ cameras were confiscated.

“It is an insulting image for Egypt,” opposition politician Ayman Nour said about the heavy security presence ahead of the rally. “Hundreds of soldiers are denying the right of a few dozen citizens trying to express their desire to amend the constitution.”

The protest was organized by the April 6 youth movement that calls for political reforms and backs the unofficial candidacy of former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohammed ElBaradei. He did not attend Tuesday’s protest.

ElBaradei has made constitutional changes to allow fairer elections the centerpiece of his recently announced reform movement. His return to Egypt and his call for an open political process has galvanized the country’s scattered and divided opposition.

Nour, who came a distant second in 2005 elections to President Hosni Mubarak, recently announced his campaign program for the 2011 presidential race. When he tried to leave his downtown office Tuesday to join the demonstration, riot police stopped him.

Mubarak has ruled Egypt since 1981 and only introduced multi-candidate presidential elections in 2005. His ruling party has kept a stranglehold on the country’s politics.

The government had banned the Tuesday protest, warning in a written notice against disturbing traffic and peace.

Several heavyset plainclothes policemen tackled and beat an American freelance photographer when he attempted to take pictures of the rally, taking his camera and briefly detaining him when he asked for it back.

Plainclothes officers also converged on a man filming the events and when wouldn’t surrender his video camera, hauled him over an iron traffic barrier and slammed him to the ground.

The April 6 youth movement was formed through online social networking sites such as Facebook, taking its name from a general strike it organized in 2008. It periodically organizes pro-reform protests.

Egypt is to hold parliamentary elections this year and presidential elections in 2011. Amendments to the constitution passed in 2007 restricting presidential candidacy to only a few members of approved political parties.

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