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Thousands protest in Egypt

By Amir Ahmed, CNN
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Tear gas fired at Cairo protesters
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Tear gas fired at protesters in Cairo
  • Protest organizers said they hope to capture on Tunisia's regional momentum for change
  • Organizers chose January 25 -- Police Day and a national holiday -- to hold protests
  • International human rights groups ask security forces not to crack down on protesters

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(CNN) -- People across Egypt took to the streets on Tuesday in demonstrations against corruption and failing economic policies, rallies partly inspired by similar protests that rocked Tunisia this month.

Thousands were protesting in the capital of Cairo, according to the "Front to Defend Egypt Protesters," an alliance of lawyers who helped organize the events.

At first, witnesses said, the police were restrained in Cairo. But later, they said, police fired around a dozen rounds of tear gas on the protesters, and people in the crowd threw the canisters back at the officers.

The group said about 200 demonstrators were in the southern city of Aswan, 2,000 in the eastern city of Ismailiya, and about 3,000 in the northern city of Mahallah.

Protest organizers said they hope to capture the regional momentum for political change set by Tunisians, who 10 days ago forced the collapse of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year rule.

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The Egyptian government did not issue permits for Tuesday's planned protests.

In an interview released Tuesday with state-run al-Ahram newspaper, Interior Minister Habib Adly warned that "the security agencies are able to stop any attempt to attend" the demonstrations and called the efforts of the "youth staging street protests ineffective."

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By early Tuesday morning, more than 90,000 people throughout the country had pledged to participate in the event in a Facebook group called "We Are All Khaled Said," named after an Alexandria activist who was allegedly beaten to death by police.

The Facebook group demands raising the minimum wage, sacking the interior minister, creating two-term presidential term limits and scrapping existing emergency laws that the group says "resulted in police control" over the people and the nation.

To highlight the role of police corruption, organizers tapped January 25 -- Police Day and a national holiday -- to hold protests.

Amnesty International released a statement Monday "urging the Egyptian authorities not to crack down" on the planned nationwide demonstration.

The banned Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest organized opposition to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime, had stated it would not have an official presence at Tuesday's protests, but some of its members "have reportedly been summoned and threatened with arrest and detention" if they attend and protest, Amnesty International said.

It was not clear whether opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei would attend the planned demonstrations. However, he posted statements supporting the effort on his Twitter account.

He also issued a video statement released Monday on YouTube addressing police.

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"I sympathize with you because sometimes you are asked to do things that you do not want to do," ElBaradei said.

"One day, I hope that you will regain your role as the protectors of the people; rather than protectors of ... fraud elections. I am sure that every one of you deep inside is looking forward to the day that his role will again be with the people and a part of them, rather than against them." he added.

Public sentiment against state security forces has grown recently with alleged videos of police brutality shown on the Internet. A recent report from Human Rights Watch said the problem is "epidemic" and "in most cases, officials torture detainees to obtain information and coerce confessions, occasionally leading to death in custody."

Some other human rights groups, such as the Arabic Network for Human Rights, have drawn a comparison between Egypt and Tunisia under Ben Ali, in terms of the level of government corruption and police brutality.

Adly, the Egyptian interior minister, dismissed any such comparisons, calling it "propaganda" that had been dismissed by politicians as "intellectual immaturity."

But one woman, identified only as Nahla, who plans to attend the Tuesday protests, disagrees. She wrote in an online post, "I hope the [Tunisia-style] revolution will be taught in history. And that Egyptians will learn in school later about the January 25th revolution."

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