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Egyptians protest ex-regime candidates; 10,000 Islamists rally in Cairo

More than 10,000 Egyptians marched from mosques and protested in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday in a show of strength by Islamists, demanding the country's ruling generals bar Hosni Mubarak's former spy chief and other ousted regime officials from running in next month's presidential elections.

The rally was the first major demonstration in Egypt in months and was a turnaround for the Islamists, who had abandoned street protests, particularly after they gained domination of parliament in elections late last year, and pursued a strategy of coexistence with the military even during violent army crackdowns on pro-democracy activists.

But the struggle for power has heated up with the approach of next month's presidential vote, in which Islamists see their chance to capture Egypt's highest post.

In response, one of the most powerful members of Mubarak's inner circle -- former intelligence chief and vice president Omar Suleiman -- has entered the race, proclaiming he wants to prevent Islamist rule.

Friday's rally, dubbed "Protecting the Revolution" and organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafi movement, further underlined the difficult situation of Egypt's liberals and leftists. Most of them also reject Suleiman, seeing him as a return of the Mubarak regime. But they accuse the Islamists of trying to monopolize power and of opportunism, cozying up to the ruling generals and only talking of revolution when it suits their interests. Most stayed away from Friday's protest.

The crowd in Tahrir Square -- the epicenter of the 18 days of protests last year that led to Mubarak's ouster -- was overwhelmingly Islamist.

"If Omar Suleiman became a president, it will turn to a pool of blood, and people will stay in the square for 10 years," said protester Ahmed Murad in front of banners depicting Suleiman as the candidate of the "Zionists."

Suleiman was Mubarak's point man on ties with Israel, and many see him as symbolic of a friendly Mubarak-era relationship with the Jewish state.

Chants of "the people want to bring down the field marshal" rang across the square, referring to the head of the ruling military council Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Many held banners with pictures of Suleiman and another Mubarak-era presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, with faces crossed out.

On Thursday, the Islamist-dominated parliament passed a new bill stripping senior Mubarak regime figures from the right to run for office for the next 10 years. The bill was hurriedly put together this week in a bid to disqualify Suleiman, but the ruling military council must ratify the bill before it can go into effect.

In response to allegations that Suleiman's run is backed by the military, Tantawi stressed Friday that the ruling military council "has no prejudices and doesn't side by any party; it is not part of the ongoing political debate nor does it support any of the presidential candidates." He did not comment on the legislation to bar regime members.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which is Egypt's strongest political force and holds nearly half of parliament, announced March 31 that its deputy leader Khairat el-Shater would run for president, reversing an earlier pledge not to seek the office.