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Activists rally in Cairo against law curbing demonstrations

Demonstrators shout slogans against the government and Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi near El-Thadiya presidential palace in
Demonstrators shout slogans against the government and Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi near El-Thadiya presidential palace in

CAIRO (Reuters) - Hundreds of Egyptian activists demonstrated on Saturday against an anti-protest law, one month before a presidential election which former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is widely expected to win.

They marched to the presidential palace in Cairo calling for the scrapping of the law passed by Egypt's army-backed interim leadership in November to curb unrest that erupted after the army's overthrow of elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.

The law requires anyone planning a demonstration to obtain police permission. Saturday's protesters did not.

A few threw stones at the police, who did not react and there was no serious violence.

"Down, down with army rule," the protesters chanted. Some burned posters of Sisi, who stepped down from his post as the head of the army last month to run for the presidency in the vote on May 26-27.

Western powers and rights groups have voiced concern about the future of freedoms and democracy in Egypt three years after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, an autocrat who ruled unchallenged for 30 years, in a popular uprising.

But a fierce army-backed crackdown on activists, mainly from Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood group, has narrowed hopes of greater political freedoms under the former army leader's rule.

Thousands of Islamists have been killed or jailed since Mursi was forced out on July 3. Some liberal activists have also been arrested. But Sisi is popular with many Egyptians who see him as capable of restoring security after three years of turmoil.

"We are determined to continue to protest to cancel this law," said protester and spokesman of the liberal al-Dostour party, Khaled Dawoud. "I hope the law gets scrapped so that elections are carried out in suitable conditions."

Three leading activists of the anti-Mubarak revolt were jailed for three years in December for defying the law by failing to apply for permission from the police to protest.

The activists who rallied on Saturday asked for their release. "I call for a presidential pardon for the jailed activists and also 12 other young members from the Dostour party," Dawoud said.

Hundreds of police and army officers have also been killed in violence that spread across the country after Mursi's overthrow and which the state blamed on the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood, which is Egypt's oldest and most organized political movement and won all five elections held since Mubarak's downfall, denies any links to violence saying it is committed to peaceful activism.

(Reporting by Yasmine Saleh; editing by Andrew Roche)

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