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Sean Penn joins new Egypt protests

Thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to call on military rulers to put an end to emergency laws dating back to the rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

The rallies in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the protests that forced Mubarak out of office in February, and in Alexandria and other cities were held under the slogan "Reclaiming the Revolution".

The protesters in Tahrir Square got an unexpected visit from Hollywood star turned activist Sean Penn, who toured the vast protest zone waving an Egyptian flag.

The "Reclaiming the Revolution" phrase reflected the fears of activists and Egypt's new crop of political parties about how the transition to democracy is being managed by a military council led by Mubarak's long-time defence minister.

The council of generals took over from Mubarak when he stepped down and pledged to end the much-hated emergency laws, hold elections and deliver the country back to civilian rule within six months.

Nearly eight months have gone by, and activists have accused the military of following many of the same hated practices of the Mubarak regime, including the physical abuse of detainees and making key decisions on its own.

Protesters painted their faces with a crossed-out U-turn sign, indicating there is no going back. One banner read: "In the name of the martyrs, we will not turn back."

The 18-day protests that forced Mubarak to step down were largely led by groups of secular young people pushing for a civilian democratic system, and helped inspire uprisings in Yemen, Libya and Syria. Around 850 people were killed in the early days of the crackdown.

The military council recently announced a schedule for staggered parliamentary elections that will begin at the end of November.

But protesters also called for a date to be set for a presidential election, which would formally bring an end to military rule.

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