CAIRO: Riot police cordoned off dozens of supporters of Egypt’s most famous jailed dissident as they held a candlelight vigil marking two years since a judge ordered Ayman Nour be imprisoned.
No violence was reported at the protest at the downtown Cairo headquarters of Nour’s Al-Ghad party.
Some 10 police trucks stood parked by Talaat Harb Square as riot police cordoned off the party offices, while protesters crammed onto the balcony, the hallway and the street outside.
Plainclothes policemen hurried passers-by away from the protesters, who held candles and chanted “Long live Ayman Nour” and “Down with state of emergency!”
Nour is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly forging signatures on petitions to register his political party. He complained earlier this year of heart and eye problems, but an Egyptian court in July turned down his request to review whether his jail sentence was endangering his health.
A diabetic dependent on insulin, Nour has also undergone cardiovascular surgery while in prison.
Nour challenged President Hosni Mubarak for the presidency in 2005, finishing a distant second in Egypt’s first contested presidential elections.
International rights groups and Western governments rebuked Egypt for prosecuting him, adding weight to Nour’s charge that his trial was politically motivated – an accusation Egypt denies.
Nour has also been questioned this year on allegations of slander initiated by pro-government lawmaker and editor, Mustafa Bakri, who accused Nour of publishing “blasphemous” remarks in his party’s newspaper.
US President George W. Bush, who has also criticized Nour’s conviction, further railed Mubarak’s government and some Egyptian media when the American leader met in June with leading human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim and specifically criticized Nour’s detention.
Even though the United States has called for greater democratic reform in Egypt, it has lately eased off pressure on Cairo in what is perceived as US effort to shield its leading Mideast Arab ally.