On a Tour Cut Short, Monitors in Syria See Little

Written By Ivan Kolev on Friday, January 27, 2012 | 11:51 PM

Friday, January 27, 2012

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HARASTA, Syria — On a tour by Arab League observers through the restless suburbs of Damascus, the stops on Thursday were anxious, brief and few.

In Irbeen, less than 10 miles from the capital, the observers hopped out of their heavily guarded convoy to examine two bodies of victims of recent violence that were lying in the street, then raced off a few minutes later as a group of protesters approached. In their rush, they were not able to look at three other bodies, an observer later said.

Later, they swept into the suburb of Harasta, where soldiers lined the entry road, taking up positions that suggested momentary control. Some sat on the sidewalk, and others milled about outside a store.

The streets emptied as the observers arrived. Their security guards drew their guns and searched the rooftops before the Arab League delegation inspected a cache of captured weapons in a house, including assault rifles and ammunition, as well as the opposition flag.

Afterward, they drove back to their hotel, having witnessed little of what is occurring in the neighborhoods that are posing a sharp and growing challenge to the government’s rule.

Arab League observers and government officials said on Thursday that a lengthier tour in Harasta, Irbeen and nearby Douma would have been impossible because antigovernment protests had become routine and gunmen, including many allied with the protesters, were attacking the security services with growing strength.

“We can’t go into certain neighborhoods, like Douma,” said one member of the security team guarding the observers. “We will be killed.”

The truncated visit also revealed the limitations of the observer mission, as the conflict shifted from frequently deadly confrontations between protesters and the government to clashes between armed groups and security forces.

Many observers said they felt more vulnerable after a recent report by the head of their mission, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Ahmed al-Dabi, that was perceived, at least by the Syrian government, as casting equal blame on opposition gunmen for the violence in the country. As a result, the observers seemed especially reliant on the government’s security as they traveled on Thursday. They did not meet with any opposition activists, not even one with whom they had scheduled an appointment so that the activist could give the observers a list of people detained by security forces.

An observer, Jaafar Kibeida, one of the mission’s leaders and a former Sudanese diplomat, said the activist would not have been able to visit them, surrounded as they were by the government’s army. For weeks, Mr. Kibeida said, the observers had repeatedly sought out opposition figures as they made their visits.

“People are more furious,” Mr. Kibeida said “The mood has changed.”

A visit to Douma — where the observers seemed to be most needed — was out of the question. Over the last week, the army and the security services have tried to rout hundreds of opposition gunmen who were controlling parts of the town.

After cutting off electricity and cellphone service, the government began storming Douma on Thursday, activists said, arresting hundreds of people during house-to-house searches before pulling back to the outskirts at night.

An activist in Douma, who gave his name as Muhammad, said the town had been considered “liberated” but indefensible. Though about 500 fighters were protecting Douma, Muhammad said, they could not guard all its dozens of entrances.

”It was like hell in Douma,” he said.

Fierce fighting continued on Thursday in Hama, in central Syria, where activists said the bodies of at least 23 men executed by the security forces had been discovered. The report, by the opposition Local Coordination Committees, could not be confirmed. The group posted a video of the bodies of men it said had been found in the Bab Qibli area, including several victims whose hands or feet were bound and who appeared to have bullet wounds to the head.

The Syrian state news agency, Sana, said that security forces had clashed with an “armed terrorist group” in Hama, arrested several people and killed “many others.” The news agency said that the authorities had seized explosives, remote detonation devices and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.

The observers’ visit on Thursday started with the longest stop of the day, at the office of the governor of the Damascus countryside, Hussein Makhlouf, who conceded that armed gunmen “controlled some areas.” The gunmen gained that control, he said, after President Bashar al-Assad’s government had kept its promise to the Arab League and withdrew tanks from cities.

The meeting continued behind closed doors, where a police official told the observers that opposition fighters had spent two days trying to attack a police station in Irbeen, at one point, using a bulldozer, according to Mr. Kibeida, the observer.

“The situation was not good for us to go today,” he said.

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Violence Rises in Syria, Vexing Arab League Monitors


DAMASCUS, Syria — Violence in Syria has escalated sharply in the past two days, with heavy bloodshed reported Friday in at least three flash points as Arab League monitors expressed exasperation and the United Nations Security Council prepared to discuss the crisis as a step toward a possible resolution condemning President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Syrian rights activists reported government troops attacking targets in the central cities of Homs and Hama and the northern city of Idlib. The opposition Local Coordination Committees, in accounts that were impossible to independently corroborate, said at least 30 people in Homs, including women and children, had been killed since Thursday. An activist with the group said that government forces, mobilized near the city’s southern approach, were shelling the restive Baba Amr and Inshaat neighborhoods.

“The city is completely paralyzed. Nobody leaves his house unless it’s a real emergency, knowing that they’re risking their lives,” the activist said.

The group, which said it had recorded 119 deaths in the last two days, said that security forces opened fire on a demonstration in Hama, the scene of intense fighting.

Meanwhile, the Syrian state news agency, SANA, said that gunmen staged an attack on the Midan neighborhood of Damascus, killing a 10-year-old boy and wounding at least 11 people. The news agency said that after an explosive device was detonated remotely, the gunmen fired randomly at the victims.

The head of the Arab League observer delegation in Syria, which has been flustered by both Mr. Assad’s security forces and the opposition in its effort to assess the 10-month-old uprising that has veered toward civil war, said in a statement that the level of mayhem had risen “in a significant way” this week.

“The situation at present, in terms of violence, does not help prepare the atmosphere” for negotiations, the head of the delegation, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Ahmed al-Dabi of Sudan, said in the statement.

The United Nations has estimated that at least 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began last March, but even that number may not reflect the full extent of the violence, which has escalated as defecting Syrian soldiers and other armed men have joined the protest movement and attacked government forces.

Navi Pillay, the top human rights official at the United Nations, said in Geneva that Syria’s ethnic and sectarian fragmentation was making it more difficult to document the death toll.

At the Security Council on Friday, diplomats from Western and Arab nations were holding talks on a draft resolution that would condemn Mr. Assad’s government, and there were expectations that a vote could be held next week. But Mr. Assad’s most important ally, Russia, has signaled that it will veto any resolution that calls for Mr. Assad to relinquish power.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, was quoted by Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency as saying, “We cannot support any U.N. resolution calling for the support of Assad’s resignation.”

Mr. Assad and officials in his government have denounced the uprising against him as a plot by foreign-backed terrorist groups and have dismissed widespread calls by a growing number of countries, including Arab League members, for him to step down.

Kareem Fahim reported from Damascus, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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More than 50 killed in 2 days of violence in Syria

BEIRUT – Two days of bloody turmoil in Syria killed more than 50 people as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad shelled residential buildings, fired on crowds and left bleeding corpses in the streets in a dramatic escalation of violence, activists said Friday.

Much of the violence was focused in Homs, where heavy gunfire hammered the city Friday in a second day of chaos. A day earlier, the city saw a flare-up of sectarian kidnappings and killings between its Sunni and Alawite communities, and pro-regime forces blasted residential buildings with mortars and gunfire, according to activists who said an entire family was killed.

Video posted online by activists showed the bodies of five small children, five women of varying ages and a man, all bloodied and piled on beds in what appeared to be an apartment after a building was hit in the Karm el-Zaytoun neighborhood of the city. A narrator said an entire family had been "slaughtered."

The video could not be independently verified.

Activists said at least 30 people were killed in Homs on Thursday and another 21 people were killed across the country Friday.

In an attempt to stop the bloodshed in Syria, the U.N. Security Council was to hold a closed-door meeting Friday to discuss the crisis, a step toward a possible resolution against the Damascus regime, diplomats said.

The Syrian uprising, which began nearly 11 months ago with mostly peaceful protests, has become increasingly violent in recent months as army defectors clash with government forces and some protesters take up arms to protect themselves. The violence has enflamed the potentially explosive sectarian divide in the country, where the Alawite minority dominates the regime despite a Sunni Muslim majority. The U.N. estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed since March.

The head of Arab League observers in Syria said in a statement that violence in the country has spiked over the past few days. Sudanese Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi said the cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib have all witnessed a "very high escalation" in violence since Tuesday.

A "fierce military campaign" was also under way in the Hamadiyeh district of Hama since the early hours of Friday, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other activists. They said the sound of heavy machine-gun fire and loud explosions reverberated across the area.

Some activists reported seeing uncollected bodies in the streets of Hama.

Elsewhere, a car bomb exploded Friday at a checkpoint outside the northern city of Idlib, the Observatory said, citing witnesses on the ground. The number of casualties was not immediately clear.

Details of Thursday's wave of killings in Homs were emerging from an array of residents and activists on Friday, though they said they were having difficulty because of continuing gunfire.

"There has been a terrifying massacre," Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the AP on Friday, calling for an independent investigation.

Thursday started with a spate of sectarian kidnappings and killings between the city's population of Sunnis and Alawites, a Shiite sect to which Assad belongs as well as most of his security and military leadership, said Mohammad Saleh, a centrist opposition figure and resident of Homs.

There was also a string of attacks by gunmen on army checkpoints, Saleh said. Checkpoints are a frequent target of dissident troops who have joined the opposition.

The violence culminated with the evening killing of the family, Saleh said, adding that the full details of what happened were not yet clear.

The Observatory said at least 11 people, including eight children, died when a building came under heavy mortar and machine gun fire. Some residents spoke of another massacre that took place when shabiha — armed regime loyalists — stormed the district, slaughtering residents in an apartment, including children.

"It's racial cleansing," said one Sunni resident of Karm el-Zaytoun, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. "They are killing people because of their sect," he said.

Some residents said kidnappers were holding Alawites in the building hit by mortars and gunfire, but the reports could not be confirmed.

Thursday's death toll in Homs was at least 35, said the Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group of activists. Both groups cite a network of activists on the ground in Syria for their death tolls. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

Syria tightly controls access to trouble spots and generally allows journalists to report only on escorted trips, which slows the flow of information.

The Syrian uprising began last March with largely peaceful anti-government protests, but it has grown increasingly violent in recent months.

Also Friday, Iran's official IRNA news agency said gunmen in Syria have kidnapped 11 Iranian pilgrims traveling by road from Turkey to Damascus.

Iranian pilgrims routinely visit Syria — Iran's closest ally in the Arab world — to pay homage to Shiite holy shrines. Last month, 7 Iranian engineers building a power plant in central Syria were kidnapped. They have not yet been released.

The Free Syrian Army — a group of army defectors — released a video on its Facebook page claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and saying the Iranians were taking part in the suppression of the Syrian people. The leader of the group could not be reached for comment.

Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council, said the group is working to help the army defectors to link them up and supply them with everything from communications equipment to clothes. Speaking in Paris, she said defectors are increasingly swelling the ranks of the Free Syrian Army and it is becoming a critical force in the uprising.

In Cairo, around 200 opposition Syrians protested outside the Syrian Embassy, trying to break into the building. They threw stones and bricks at the building, but were kept back by a line of police and soldiers.

Assad's regime claims terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy are behind the uprising, not protesters seeking change, and that thousands of security forces have been killed.

International pressure on Damascus to end the bloodshed so far has produced few results.

The Arab League has sent observers to the country, but the mission has been widely criticized for failing to stop the violence. Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia pulled out of the mission Tuesday, asking the Security Council to intervene because the Syrian government has not halted its crackdown.

The U.N. Security Council has been unable to agree on a resolution since violence began in March because of strong opposition from Russia and China.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Friday that Moscow will oppose a new draft U.N. resolution on Syria worked out by the West and some Arab states because it does not exclude the possibility of outside military interference.

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Saudi prince discusses kingdom's Iran problem

DAVOS, Switzerland – Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's former head of general intelligence, was on a panel to assess the whole concept of globalization at the World Economic Forum here, but we sat down with him to talk very specifically about his region.

"Two hundred dollars a barrel oil is not going to benefit anyone," he said, talking about the standoff with Iran and the fallout that could come from the sanctions recently placed on its oil sector. "What we need to do is get away from the hyperbole and threatening stances."

The prince once worked as a diplomat for the kingdom, but now that he no longer wears that hat, he is free to express what he feels about his particularly troublesome neighbor, Iran. Beyond resolving the nuclear problem, I asked, what would Saudi Arabia like from Iran?

"We want to see them stop interfering in our affairs,” he said. “They interfere in Iraq, they interfere in Syria, they interfere in Bahrain, they interfere in Saudi Arabia, they occupy the islands of the UAE. And then they tell us to come and talk with them. How are we going to talk if they do these things?"

But the prince believes Iran is feeling singled out in the whole nuclear story and that a “weapons of mass destruction free zone” in the Middle East is the way forward. He would like to see the United Nations Security Council vote on a resolution guaranteeing:

-- a security umbrella for all the countries in the Middle East and Gulf region;

-- economic aid available to those countries that want to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy program;

-- economic and diplomatic sanctions placed upon countries that do not sign on to a deal;

-- military sanctions (i.e. missile strikes) against any country seen to be developing a nuclear weapon, so they can expect dire consequences if they go after a bomb.

The bottom line, he believes, is that Iran has called for a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East, and if Israel gets rid of its weapons, Iran will fall into line.

"We have a saying, 'Follow the liar to his doorstep,'” he said.

In other words, call Iran's bluff on this one. The prince says he thinks there has to be a level playing field and Iran shouldn't feel it is being treated differently from everyone else. And nobody would be happier than the powers in Riyadh to see this all resolved.

"We don't want to be sandwiched between a nuclear state, which is Israel, and a potential nuclear state, which is Iran," he said. The prince said he would love for things to be good with the Saudis’ Persian neighbors.

"Geography is the ruler here. They are our neighbors. We would love to have good relations with them. Imagine the wonderful things that could happen. The cross-Gulf culture and trade. What benefit it could bring to the area!"

World leaders are assembled in Davos to talk about saving the euro, the currency of a union that is meant to guarantee peace on the continent. In the same way, Israel could in theory be part of a powerful Arab-Persian regional economic block. The prince says he doesn't agree, but he doesn't necessarily disagree, either.

"With our brain power, and Jewish wealth,” he says, “we can do wonders."

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$14,400 offered to capsized cruise ship passengers

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Suicide bomber kills 32 at Baghdad funeral march

BAGHDAD – A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car near a funeral procession in southeastern Baghdad on Friday, killing at least 32 people -- half of them policemen who were guarding the march -- in the latest brazen attack since the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Police officials said the blast occurred at 11:00 a.m. in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniyah, where mourners had gathered for the funeral of a person killed the day before. They said 65 people were wounded in the attack, including 16 policemen.

Hospital officials confirmed the death toll.

Salam Hussein, a 42-year-old grocery store owner in Zafaraniyah said he was watching the funeral procession, which was heavily guarded by police, when the blast blew out his store windows and injured one of his workers.

"It was a huge explosion," Hussein said. As he took his worker to the hospital, Hussein said he saw cars engulfed in flames, "human flesh scattered around and several mutilated bodies in a pool of blood" around where the attacker's car had exploded.

Zafaraniyah resident Talib Bashir, 50, said he was part of the procession of about 500 men but left the group to take his child home when he heard the blast.

"I saw smoke coming from a parked car that had exploded," Bashir said, adding that police and civilians cars, an ambulance van and several stores were engulfed in flames hours after the blast. "The fire lasted for a long time," Bashir said.

Minutes after the blast, gunmen opened fire at a checkpoint in Zafaraniyah, killing two policemen, according to police officials. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Across Iraq, at least 200 people have been killed in a wave of attacks by suspected insurgents since the beginning of the year, raising concerns that the surge in violence and an escalating political crisis might deteriorate into a civil war, just weeks after the U.S. military withdrawal.

Most of the dead have been Shiite pilgrims and members of the Iraqi security forces.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday's attack.

Since the United States completed its pullout last month, militant groups -- mainly al-Qaida in Iraq -- have stepped up attacks targeting the country's majority Shiites to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government and its efforts to protect people without American backup.

On Thursday, 17 people died in bombings around the country, including seven people in attacks on Baghdad's s two predominantly Sunni districts, suggesting that Shiite militants could be retaliating amid fears of a reignited sectarian conflict in the war-ravaged country.

Friday's blast is the second deadliest single attack in Iraq this month.

At least 53 people were killed Jan. 14, when a bomb tore through a procession of Shiite pilgrims heading toward a largely Sunni town in southern Iraq. The attack suggested a renewed power struggle between rival Muslim sects amid an escalating sectarian crisis in the Shiite-led government.

The last U.S. soldiers left the country Dec. 18.

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Italian cruise ship operator offers passengers $14G compensation

ROME – Costa Crociere SpA offered uninjured passengers $14,460 apiece Friday to compensate them for lost baggage and the psychological trauma they suffered after their cruise ship ran aground and capsized off Tuscany.

But some passengers are already refusing to accept the deal, saying they can't yet put a figure on the costs of the trauma they endured.

Costa announced the offer after negotiations with consumer groups who say they are representing 3,206 passengers from 61 countries who suffered no physical harm when the massive Costa Concordia cruise ship hit a reef on Jan. 13.

In addition to the lump-sum indemnity, Costa, a unit of the world's biggest cruise operator, the Miami-based Carnival Corp., also said it would reimburse uninjured passengers the full costs of their cruise, their return travel expenses and any medical expenses they sustained after the grounding.

The deal does not apply to the hundreds of crew on the ship, many of whom have lost their jobs, the roughly 100 people who were injured in the chaotic evacuation or the families who lost loved ones. Sixteen bodies have already been recovered from the disaster and another 16 people who were on board are missing and presumed dead.

Passengers are free to pursue legal action on their own if they aren't satisfied with the deal and it was clear Friday -- two weeks after the grounding -- that some would.

"We're very worried about the children," said Claudia Urru of Cagliari, Sardinia, who was on board the ship with her husband and two sons aged 3 and 12. Her eldest child, she said, is seeing a psychiatrist: He won't speak about the incident or even look at television footage of the grounding.

"He's terrorized at night," she told The Associated Press. "He can't go to the bathroom alone. We're all sleeping together, except my husband, who has gone into another room because we don't all fit."

As a result, she said, her family has retained a lawyer because they don't know what the real impact -- financial or otherwise -- of the trauma will be. She said her family simply isn't able to make such decisions now.

"We are having a very, very hard time," she said.

Some consumer groups have already signed on as injured parties in the criminal case against the Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, who is accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all those aboard were evacuated. He is under house arrest.

In addition, Codacons, one of Italy's best-known consumer groups, has engaged two U.S. law firms to launch a class-action lawsuit against Costa and Carnival in Miami, claiming that it expects to get anywhere from euro125,000 ($164,000) to euro1 million ($1.3 million) per passenger.

German attorney Hans Reinhardt, who currently represents 15 Germans who survived the accident and is in talks to represent families who lost loved ones, said he is advising his clients not to take the settlement.

Instead, he, like Codacons, is working with the U.S. law firm to pursue the class-action suit in Miami.

"What they have lost is much more than euro11,000," he told the AP.

But Roberto Corbella, who represented Costa in the negotiations, said the deal provides passengers with quick and "generous" restitution that consumer groups estimate could amount to some euro14,000 ($18,500) per passenger when it includes the other reimbursements.

"The big advantage that they have is an immediate response, no legal expenses, and they can put this whole thing behind them," he told AP.

Angry passenger Herbert Greszuk, a 62-year-old German who left behind everything he had with him, including his tuxedo, camera, jewelry, and even his dentures, told the AP before the compensation deal was announced that it was an issue of accountability.

"Something like this must not be allowed to happen again. So many people died; it's simply inexcusable," he said.

The Concordia gashed its hull on reefs off the island of Giglio after Schettino made an unauthorized deviation from its approved route to bring it closer to Giglio. Some 4,200 passengers and crew were hastily evacuated.

Search efforts for the missing resumed Friday as salvage crews set up to begin extracting some 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil on Saturday before it leaks into the pristine waters surrounding the ship. That pumping operation is expected to last nearly a month.

Italy's civil protection office on Friday released a list of some of the other possibly toxic substances aboard the cruise liner, including 50 liters of insecticide and 41 cubic meters of lubricants, among other things.

But so far, even though some film has been detected in the waters around the ship, tests on the waters indicate nothing outside the norm, according to Tuscany's regional environment agency.

"Toxic tests have all resulted negative," the agency said.

The crystal clear seas around Giglio are a haven for scuba divers and form part of a marine sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales.

Passengers have said the evacuation was chaotic, with crew members unprepared to deal with an emergency and constantly downplaying the seriousness of the situation. Coast guard data shows the captain only sounded the evacuation alarm an hour after the initial collision, well after the Concordia had listed to the point that many lifeboats couldn't be lowered.

Schettino has admitted he had taken the ship on "touristic navigation" near Giglio but has said the rocks he hit weren't charted on his nautical maps.

Codacons has called for a criminal investigation into the not-infrequent practice of "tourist navigation" -- steering huge cruise ships close to shore to give passengers a view of key sites.

The chief executive of Costa, Pier Luigi Foschi, told Italian lawmakers this week that "tourist navigation" wasn't illegal, and was a "cruise product" increasingly sought out by passengers and offered by cruise lines to try to stay competitive.

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Egyptians mark 1st anniversary of 'Friday of Rage'

CAIRO -- Large marches of protesters chanting antimilitary slogans streamed from mosques around Cairo to join tens of thousands massed in central Tahrir Square in a new uprising anniversary rally Friday, with many demanding an early transfer of power by the ruling military and the trial of generals for the killing of protesters.

Tensions erupted when one march of hundreds of protesters headed toward the Defense Ministry building and was met by dozens of supporters of the military who chanted "the army and people are one hand." The pro-military group formed a human chain across an intersection, but the protesters pushed through them, shouting "down with military rule."

Outside barbed wire and armored vehicles guarding the ministry, the protesters chanted against the generals. Protester Ahmed al-Aish said the rally was to deliver a message to the military, "You must go."

The protests, which included mass rallies in other Egyptian cities, commemorated the first anniversary of the "Friday of Rage," one of the bloodiest days of the 18-day wave of protests a year ago that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

In last year's "Friday of Rage," Mubarak's security forces fired on protesters marching toward Tahrir from around the capital, killing and wounding hundreds. Protesters battled back for hours until Mubarak's widely hated police forces collapsed and withdrew from the streets.

A year later, protesters' focus is now on demands that the military, which has ruled since Mubarak's Feb. 11 ouster, leave power. But Islamists and liberal, secular-leaning "revolutionary" protesters are divided. The revolutionaries want the generals out immediately, while the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now the most powerful bloc in parliament, is willing to wait for the military's promises to step aside by the end of June.

The leftists and secular groups accuse the military of being as dictatorial as Mubarak and of seeking to preserve their power even after handing over their authority to civilians. Regardless of the timetable, there is widespread resentment that little has been done to dismantle Mubarak's regime and prosecute security officers for the deaths of hundreds of protesters during and after the anti-Mubarak uprising. They call for more protests, while the Brotherhood wants to focus power on parliament. At the same time, there is also significant weariness over the continuing turmoil among Egyptians who are struggling with a worsening economy.

The differing tone was visible in Tahrir. Brotherhood supporters treated the day as a celebration of the victory of the "revolution," while non-Islamists insist there can be no celebrations when so many demands are unmet.

Some in the square shouted against the Brotherhood, chanting at them, "Get off the stage." Brotherhood supporters on a stage they have set up in the square tried to drown them out, blaring the national anthem and religious songs from multiple loudspeakers.

Amid the crowds in Tahrir, a Muslim cleric delivered a boisterous Friday sermon, proclaiming that the protesters, not the military, have the right to determine the country's course.

"Our right is to dictate the decisions of the revolution," said the cleric, Muzhar Shahine, speaking from a stage set up by leftist and secular groups, as the crowd cheered and cried, "God is great."
He gave a litany of the unrealized changes sought by the revolution.

"A year later, has State Security really been dissolved," he said, referring to Mubarak's feared internal security force that was the backbone of his police state. "Has our land been freed?" He said state media, a key mouthpiece for Mubarak and now the military, must be purged, a constitution must be written that is "shared by all political parties and that gives rights for all of Egypt's children," and Christians must be given the same rights as Muslims.

Rallies of thousands of protesters moved from main mosques all around Cairo toward Tahrir, chanting "we want civilian, not military." Some young men had shaved the words "down with military rule" in their hair cuts. In one rally from Cairo's Shubra neighborhood, a young man representing a slain protester was carried on other men's shoulders as a long Egyptian flag was unfurled down the boulevard.

Some were critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, which many suspect will not push for real reforms now that it has won a dominant place in parliament and which they fear is willing to strike a deal with the military that would give the general's some continued power. The Brotherhood denies any deal.

"We can't celebrate when there's no justice for those killed," 30-year-old protester Amr Sayyed said. "The Muslim Brotherhood is talking about justice, but not how or when."

"This is a day of mourning, not celebration," said Abdel-Hady el-Ninny, the father of a slain protester, Alaa Abdel-Hady. He and his family carried large posters of his son around Tahrir.

Friday's protests come two days after hundreds of thousands packed into Tahrir to mark the Jan. 25 start of the uprising against Mubarak. That rally, too, was marked by similar divisions.

There were increasing calls among many protesters for presidential elections to be moved up to April to select a civilian for the military to give its powers as head of state. Under the military's timetable, presidential elections would be held by late June after a new constitution is written, and after the election it would step down.

A youth umbrella group of liberal political forces and activists named "Our Egypt" or "Masrana" said in a statement Thursday, "the demand is single and clear: a president first."

A large banner in Tahrir on Friday demanding the presidential vote before the constitution.

Moving up the vote would also move up the transfer of power from the military. Supporters of the idea also want the constitution written under the rule of a civilian president, fearing that if the military still holds the reins it can force provisions that give it a political say or prevent civilian oversight.

There are other proposals, including handing power to the parliament speaker. Pro-reform leader Mohammed ElBaradei proposed that parliament elects a temporary president until the constitution is written, then presidential elections could be held. "After a year of stumbling, it is time to agree on correcting the path."

The Muslim Brotherhood has remained neutral in terms of what comes first since it plans not to field a candidate of its members in presidential elections and it doesn't want to anger the military generals for fear of sabotaging its parliament victory.

The Brotherhood holds just under half the seats in the new parliament, giving it considerable influence over the writing of the constitution. Parliament is supposed to appoint a 100-member panel to draft the document.

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