Egypt opposition rallies to demand Mursi's ouster

CAIRO (AFP) - Tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets nationwide on Sunday, determined to oust Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on the anniversary of his turbulent first year in power.

In Cairo, several marches set off for Tahrir Square and to the presidential palace in the Heliopolis neighbourhood as one chant rang out round the capital: "Leave!" Anti-Mursi protests were also being staged in the coastal city of Alexandria, the Nile Delta cities of Mansura, Menuf, Tanta and Mahalla, the canal cities of Suez and Port Said and in the President's hometown of Zagazig.

In Tahrir Square, tens of thousands of people waved red cards and Egyptian flags as patriotic songs boomed from large speakers. "The people want the ouster of the regime," the opposition protesters chanted, the signature slogan of the 2011 revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak and brought Mr Mursi to power.

"This is the second revolution, and Tahrir is the symbol of the revolution," said carpenter Ibrahim Hammouda, who came from the northern city of Damietta for the protest.

Mr Mursi's supporters had held days of demonstrations in a show of strength and vowed to continue doing so to defend his legitimacy, raising fears of confrontations. But Sunday's anti-government protests eclipsed their gathering in Cairo's Nasr City neighbourhood.

Police and troops have deployed at key buildings nationwide, security officials said, and the health ministry said hospitals are on high alert in case of violence. A senior security official said the Suez Canal, the vital waterway connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, is under "maximum security". Banks and most offices closed for the day.

The grassroots movement Tamarod - Arabic for rebellion - claims to have collected millions of signatures to a petition demanding Mursi's resignation and new elections. Posters urging people to join anti-Mursi protests have sprung up around Cairo, plastered on walls and stuck on car windows, along with "June 30" graffiti.

The week ahead of the showdown has seen eight people, including an American, killed, and scores more injured as rival demonstrators clashed.

Mr Mursi, previously a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, is Egypt's first freely elected president, catapulted to power by the 2011 uprising that ended three decades of authoritarian Mubarak rule. His opponents accuse him of betraying the revolution by concentrating power in Islamist hands and of sending the economy into free fall.

Mr Mursi's supporters say he inherited many problems from a corrupt regime, and that he should be allowed to complete his term which ends in 2016. Any attempt to remove him from office, they argue, is a coup against democracy.