Prominent Egyptian blogger freed


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The Independent Online

A prominent Egyptian blogger accused of attacking soldiers during deadly clashes was released today after nearly two months in detention, during which he became a symbol of the pro-democracy activists' struggle to end military rule in Egypt.

Alaa Abdel-Fattah's first stop after he was freed was Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in February. The square continues to be the focus of the campaign against the army, which took power after Mubarak was ousted.

Abdel-Fattah was accused of inciting violence and other offences during clashes that killed 27 people on October 9, but he was never formally charged. He was arrested on October 30.

The arrest raised tensions between the activists who engineered Mubarak's ousting and the generals led by Hussein Tantawi, the deposed leader's defence minister for some 20 years.

Relations have since steadily worsened, hitting a new low this month when soldiers brutally beat and stomped on protesters, including women, in Cairo clashes that left at least 18 people dead and dozens wounded. Clashes between protesters and security forces have killed more than 100 people since Mubarak was ousted.

"We need to end military rule," Abdel-Fattah said, moments after his release outside Cairo's police headquarters. "We cannot just celebrate my innocence. We know from the beginning I am not the one who killed people. We have not gone after the real criminals who killed people," he said in remarks carried on Al-Jazeera TV.

The decision to release Abdel-Fattah but ban him from travel also applies to 27 others accused of taking part in violent clashes with security forces on October 9.

That violence began when groups of stone-throwers attacked a crowd of Coptic Christians protesting at an attack on a church in southern Egypt. Video showed the army moving in with force, and some of the protesters were run over by army vehicles.

Abdel-Fattah and his supporters dismissed the accusations that he incited violence, saying the military was trying to silence a prominent critic and to deflect blame.

Abdel-Fattah, a leader of the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak, was Egypt's first blogger activist, launching a blog years ago organising opposition to Mubarak. He was detained for six weeks in 2006 under Mubarak.

Outside police headquarters today, Abdel-Fattah cradled his newborn son Khaled, named after Khaled Said, whose death at the hands of police officers helped inspire the uprising that toppled Mubarak. Abdel-Fattah's wife gave birth to the baby while her husband was in detention.

His detention brought international condemnation, and activists said it was evidence that the generals were following the same authoritarian policies as the deposed leader.

Members of an advisory council set up by the military say the generals are now prepared to look into proposals to bring forward the date of their transfer of power to a civilian administration. According to the military's timetable, the generals would step down after presidential elections are held before the end of June,