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Egypt protests stifled by police in Cairo

Published 25/04/2016

Monday's planned demonstrations would be the second wave of protests this month
Monday's planned demonstrations would be the second wave of protests this month

Egyptian riot police have stifled plans for mass demonstrations against President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's rule.

Police used tear gas to disperse flash protests by hundreds in what turned into a day of cat-and-mouse games across parts of Cairo.

Police took over Cairo locations designated by organisers as gathering points, checking IDs and turning potential protesters away under the threat of arrest.

At least 100 protesters had been arrested by nightfall, mostly in the Dokki district in Cairo's twin city of Giza, according to activists and rights lawyers.

A total of 11 journalists were arrested during the course of the day and all but one were released hours later, according to reports.

"We have been running back and forth. Every time we gather in one place, they attack us," said one female protester.

"The minute we started gathering they attacked us and we fled," said another protester from the impoverished and densely populated Cairo district of Nahya.

Determined to prevent the protests, police took up positions in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 uprising, and deployed on the city's ring road and at a suburban square where hundreds of Islamist protesters were killed when security forces broke up their sit-in in August 2013.

The sheer number of policemen on the streets and fear of arrest prevented protesters from gathering, often forcing them to trickle out from designated gathering points to assemble elsewhere.

The arrests followed the detention in recent days of scores of activists in pre-dawn raids as authorities sought to derail plans for the demonstrations. Rights groups say as many as 100 have been arrested since late last week, with some picked up by police just hours before the protests were due to start.

The most serious violence took place at a residential square in Dokki, where some 500 protesters led by prominent activists gathered. Masked policemen in armoured vehicles and wearing riot gear arrived 10 minutes later and fired tear gas.

Elsewhere in Dokki, dozens of riot and special forces policemen laid siege to the headquarters of the Karama, or Dignity, party founded by opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi, the only candidate who ran against Mr el-Sissi in the 2014 presidential election and who filed a lawsuit against Mr el-Sissi for surrendering the islands.

"We denounce the violations of our constitutional rights of peaceful assembly. We are holding a sit-in here until they withdraw, and we demand the release of all those who were captured today and in previous days," senior party member Masoum Marzouk told the Associated Press.

"If they raid these offices it would be a big mistake, but they are capable of anything these days. We are a city under occupation by the army and police."

The central issue of the protests was Egypt's recent decision to surrender to Saudi Arabia control of two strategic Red Sea islands in a surprise deal. Egypt says the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba off the coast of Sinai belong to Saudi Arabia, which placed them under Cairo's protection in 1950 because it feared Israel might attack them.

The announcement came during a visit to Egypt this month by the Saudi monarch, King Salman, as the kingdom announced a multi-billion-dollar package of aid and investment to Egypt, fueling charges that the islands were sold off.

Already, the issue of the islands has sparked the largest protests since Mr el-Sissi assumed power in June 2014, when on April 15 some 2,000 protesters gathered in Cairo to demonstrate against el-Sissi for giving up the islands, calling on him to step down.

Mr el-Sissi has dismissed the controversy and insists Egypt has not surrendered an "inch" of its territory.

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