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10,000 join march in Cairo square

More than 10,000 Egyptians have marched from mosques and protested in Cairo's Tahrir Square, demanding the country's ruling generals bar Hosni Mubarak's former spy chief and other ousted regime officials from running in upcoming presidential elections.

The show of strength by Islamists was the first major demonstration in Egypt in months and was a turnaround for the religious factions, who had abandoned street protests, particularly after they gained domination of parliament in elections late last year, and pursued a strategy of co-existence with the military even during violent army crackdowns on pro-democracy activists.

The struggle for power has heated up with the approach of next month's presidential vote in which Islamists see their chance to capture Egypt's highest post. In response, one of the most powerful members of Mubarak's inner circle - former intelligence chief and vice president Omar Suleiman - has entered the race, proclaiming he wants to prevent Islamist rule.

The rally, organised by the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafi movement, underlined the difficult situation of Egypt's liberals and leftists. Most of them also reject Suleiman, seeing him as a return of the Mubarak regime, but they accuse the Islamists of trying to monopolise power and of opportunism, cosying up to the ruling generals and only talking of revolution when it suits their interests.

The crowd in Tahrir Square - the epicentre of 18 days of protests last year that led to Mubarak's removal - was overwhelmingly Islamist. A large banner of a prominent Salafi candidate for president, Hazem Abu Ismail, hung over the crowd, where many wore T-shirts with his image.

Many in the crowd had the beards of Muslim conservatives, and vendors sold black banners with the Islamic profession of faith, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet".

Suleiman was Mubarak's point man on ties with Israel and many see him as symbolic of a friendly Mubarak-era relationship with the Jewish state.

Chants of "the people want to bring down the field marshal" rang across the square, referring to the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Many held banners with pictures of Suleiman and another Mubarak-era presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, with their faces crossed out.

On Thursday, the Islamist-dominated parliament passed a new bill stripping senior Mubarak regime figures of the right to run for office for the next 10 years, but the ruling military council must ratify the bill before it can go into effect.

Suleiman was Mubarak's most trusted man, serving for years as his intelligence chief. He was appointed as Mubarak's vice president briefly during the 18 days of protests last year, and then dropped out of the public eye after Mubarak's fall.

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