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Demonstrators in Egypt rail against brutality, man's death

By Ben Wedeman, CNN
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Egyptians rally against police brutality
  • Khaled Said died after he was dragged out of an internet cafe
  • Pictures of his battered face enraged citizens
  • Mohamed ElBaradei shows up at Alexandria protest

Alexandria, Egypt (CNN) -- Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chief of the U.N. atomic agency and now an Egyptian reformist figure, joined thousands of people in Alexandria on Friday to protest the death of an Egyptian man and shine a light on police brutality.

Khaled Said died after police dragged him out of an internet cafe in Alexandria on June 6 -- a fatality that has since become a lightning rod for human rights activists.

Witnesses said two plainclothes police officers beat Said, 28, to death. Egyptian authorities said he died from asphyxiation after he swallowed a packet of drugs.

A photograph of his pummeled face is on a Facebook page devoted to him.

Video: Egyptians rail against beating death

The circumstances behind Said's death are unclear. Police say he was wanted for theft and weapons possession and that he resisted arrest. Supporters say he was targeted for trying to expose official corruption. The government says it is still investigating the death.

ElBaradei visited Said's family Friday to offer his condolences, went to Friday prayers at the Sidi Gaber mosque, and moved through the crowds of protesters as security forces stood guard at the demonstration.

He told CNN that such a beating is a practice out of the Middle Ages.

"I think the message should be clear," said ElBaradei, making his most high-profile appearance since leaving the International Atomic Energy Agency. "This should be the last time we witness torture in Egypt."

Protesters carried posters; one read "Killed by Barbarians." One opposition activist, Gamila Ismail, said police are "bold" and "brutal."

"They want to tame us and they want to get us used to torture, even in the streets, and shutting up."

One man, who identified himself as Sharif, told CNN, "I don't want a million dollars. I just want to be treated like a human being."

Layla Said, Khaled's mother, told CNN, "We raise our children so they will become like flowers. And in a moment they are cut down. Why?"

Referring to President Hosni Mubarak, a well-wisher at Said's house said, "The president needs to hear us and needs to feel the tears of the mothers."

"Everyone is with you," another well-wisher said to Layla Said. "All our hearts are with you."

The death has sparked other demonstrations in Egypt in which crowds were forcibly dispersed and some were arrested, the group said.

Human Rights Watch, a humanitarian watchdog group, said photographs of Said's "mangled face" as well as the witness accounts "constitute strong evidence that plainclothes security officers beat him in a vicious and public manner."

"Photos of Said's battered and deformed face published on the internet show a fractured skull, dislocated jaw, broken nose, and numerous other signs of trauma," it said in a news release.

The group said that nine people described the beating, and that the two officers suspected in the beating "have not been relieved of their duties and have yet to be questioned by the prosecutor."

"All those involved should be speedily interrogated, and the prosecutor should fully investigate what caused the fractures and trauma clearly evident on his body," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said in the release, dated Thursday.

ElBaradei stepped down last year from the post of director-general of the IAEA. He and the agency were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.