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Egypt crisis laws partially lifted

Egypt's military ruler has decreed a partial lifting of the nation's hated emergency laws in an apparent attempt to ease criticism of his policies ahead of the first anniversary of the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

Field marshal Hussein Tantawi said in a television address that the draconian laws, in force for more than three decades, would be lifted from Wednesday but would remain applicable to crimes committed by "thugs". The military has often labelled the organisers of anti-government demonstrations "thugs".

Tantawi's decision to partially lift the emergency laws, which give police far-reaching powers, is unlikely to satisfy rights groups which have been campaigning for their total removal. The laws were in force for all of Mubarak's 29-year reign.

Rights groups say at least 12,000 civilians have been tried before military tribunals since the military council took power. Many of them, they say, were charged with acts of "thuggery" when they were protesters.

The term has also been used to ridicule the military in the independent press and some of the young protesters in recent demonstrations have been chanting "we are thugs". At least 80 protesters have been killed by troops since October.

To mark the anniversary, the rulers pledged to release more than 1,900 people who were tried in military courts. The release was set for Wednesday morning.

In another apparent good will gesture, blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad was freed. He was arrested in March and sentenced by a military court to three years in prison over his criticism of the military's use of violence against protesters.

Tantawi, who was Mubarak's defence minister for 20 years, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces he chairs took power when an 18-day uprising forced Mubarak to step down on February 11, 2011.

To mark the anniversary on Wednesday, protesters are expected to take to the streets to call on the military to immediately step down and to demand retribution for hundreds of protesters killed by Mubarak's security forces or at the hands of troops in subsequent clashes.

Several thousand protesters have gathered at Tahrir Square, erecting tents and building podiums in preparation for Wednesday's demonstrations.

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