CAIRO, May 4: Egyptian riot police fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators staging protests nationwide on Wednesday against President Hosni Mubarak’s “dictatorship”, arresting more than 200 people. Pro-reform activists have escalated their campaign for constitutional and political reforms in the country in recent weeks, with many calling on the veteran leader to step down when his mandate expires later this year.

Police clashed with hundreds in the town of Fayyum, as well as in Mansura and Zagazig in the Nile Delta region, and fired tear gas to disperse the crowds, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood claimed. It said security forces arrested about 100 protesters in Fayyum and another 100 in Zagazig in a day of coordinated rallies up and down the country it organized to press for political reforms.

The Brotherhood also reported demonstrations in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Tanta, and Damanhur in the Delta region and in the capital, Cairo. Interior ministry sources said police detained 80 protesters in Mansura, 100 in Zagazig and 30 in Fayyum.

“No to dictatorship,” a group of an estimated 1,000 protesters chanted outside the Fatteh Mosque in central Cairo.

“No to cosmetic reforms, yes to real reforms,” they shouted as thousands of baton-wielding and shield-carrying security forces sealed off the area to prevent trouble. The protesters also denounced the state-owned media as “corrupt” and chanted slogans calling for the abrogation of emergency laws that have been in place since the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

“Islam is the solution,” read banners carried by protesters. The demonstrators stressed their objection to parliamentary attempts to “empty of content” the constitutional reform proposed by President Mubarak, which aims at electing the president through a direct and secret suffrage, with many candidates allowed to run.

The proposed constitutional amendments should be voted on next week in parliament, but MPs from Mubarak’s National Democratic Party wish to impose strict conditions on candidates which the opposition rejects.

The president has not yet announced whether he intends to seek another term. Earlier this year, he announced that rival candidates would for the first time be able to stand in a presidential election due next September.

Previously, voters were only given the opportunity to accept or reject a single candidate nominated by parliament, which is overwhelmingly dominated by Mr Mubarak’s party. —AFP

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