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In Egypt, a rare public protest against Mubarak

Critics oppose possible reelection or succession by son

CAIRO -- About 1,000 people gathered downtown yesterday, many with their mouths covered by yellow stickers reading ''Enough," to protest the possibility that President Hosni Mubarak might run for a fifth term or that his son, Gamal, might succeed him.

Later yesterday, hundreds of security forces surrounded the offices of Kamal Khalil, a veteran activist who spoke out against the Mubaraks at the protest.

Mubarak, 76, has been president since 1981, when he replaced Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated. Mubarak's current six-year term ends in October 2005. He has not said whether he will run again.

Some participants said the largely silent action -- held in front of Egypt's Supreme Judiciary Court -- was the first purely anti-Mubarak protest since he came to power.

''Enough. No more extensions. No heredity. No succession," read one of the banners held by the protesters, who were cordoned off and outnumbered by riot police and senior police officials.

Khalil, 55, said he returned from the protest and found hundreds of riot police, at least eight police trucks, and an armored car outside his Socialist Studies Center, where a seminar on change was being held.

''Leave. Enough," he chanted, addressing Mubarak. ''This silent protest is against inheriting the ruling regime by Gamal Mubarak and against Mubarak's fifth term."

It was unclear whether the surrounding of Khalil's office was related to his remarks at the protest.

''I'm not worried or afraid. This is a despotic and repressive country," Khalil said by telephone from inside the center. ''I really don't care if they arrest me after the seminar. I will continue to defend my ideas and principles, even if surrounded by a million tanks."

The protest drew Islamists, nationalists, leftists, and liberals. The Egyptian Movement for Change, a group of political parties and intellectuals, organized the protest to demand a constitutional change that would allow more than one presidential candidate.

Mubarak has never had a vice president. There has been strong speculation in recent years that Gamal Mubarak, 41, is being groomed as his successor.

Egypt holds presidential referendums, rather than elections, in which people vote ''yes" or ''no" for a sole candidate.

In October, more than 650 people -- Islamists, Communists, and 30 lawmakers -- signed a petition demanding an amendment to Egyptian Constitution that would limit a president to two terms.

Yesterday the protesters dispersed peacefully within an hour, singing a revision of the Egyptian national anthem: ''My country, you still have oppression in politics and economics. You need revolution, my country."

The original lyrics are: ''My country, you have my love and my heart."

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