Egyptians in their hundreds began gathering Tuesday in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square ahead of a mass demonstration to protest against verdicts handed down in ex-president Hosni Mubarak’s murder trial.
Hawkers selling tea, cakes or flags took up positions at the square in downtown Cairo, which was closed to traffic for the 1500 GMT demonstration called by Egyptian activists furious at the verdicts.
Mubarak, 84, and his interior minister Habib al-Adly were sentenced to life in prison on Saturday, but six security chiefs were acquitted over the killings of demonstrators during last year’s uprising that left some 850 people dead and ousted the ex-president.
The ruling sparked nationwide outrage, with thousands taking to the streets to vent their rage that no one had been found directly guilty of killing the protesters.
Mubarak — the only autocrat toppled in the Arab Spring to be put in the dock — could have been sent to the gallows as demanded by the prosecution but was instead given a life term, angering many.
He was also cleared of graft charges.
Along with the acquitted police chiefs, Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal had corruption charges against them dropped on a technicality, but they will remain in prison over another corruption case.
The protest has been called by youth movements who revolted against Mubarak last year, including the Coalition of Revolution Youth and the Maspero Youth Union, and will be supported by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood.
The runners-up in the first round of the presidential election, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi and moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, would lead separate marches to the central square, they said in statements.
They came third and fourth respectively in the May 23-24 election that has narrowed to a run-off later this month between Ahmed Shafiq – Mubarak’s prime minister during the uprising — and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi.
“We believe that our revolution is not over. The military must leave power and hand it to civilians,” said Mahmud Bahira, a protester from the Revolution Youth movement.
Another protester Mohammed Shabik said: “The judgement in the Mubarak case is not tough enough, there are even people who have been acquitted.”
Egypt’s prosecutor has said that the verdicts will be appealed, but a judicial source said that the process would take several weeks.
Mubarak’s defence team has also said it would challenge the ruling and told AFP it was confident of winning on appeal.
The verdicts come just two weeks before the presidential election run-off which is becoming highly polarised with many activists facing a difficult choice.
For activists, choosing Shafiq, a Mubarak-era figure, would symbolise a return to the old regime and an end to the revolution, but voting for Mursi would mean handing Egypt to a movement they say has monopolised power since the uprising.