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Islamists, liberals square off on anniversary of Egypt uprising

CAIRO — Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians thronged major squares across the country Wednesday, marking the first anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak with rallies that laid bare the divisions that have replaced the unity of last year's revolt.

Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 18 days of protests against Mubarak, was transformed into the focal point of the rivalry between revolutionary activists intent on showing they can still mobilize the street and the Muslim Brotherhood, who emerged as Egypt's dominant political force after a landslide victory in parliamentary elections.

The secular activists want continued protests to force the immediate ouster of the generals who took power after Mubarak's fall, saying they are just as dictatorial as the former president. The activists touted their powerful turnout as a sign they can pressure the Brotherhood, who they fear will accommodate the military in order to ensure their own political dominance.

Both sides were intent on bringing out as many supporters as possible to show their weight in a nation still reeling from the aftershocks of Mubarak's ouster.

The Islamists got off to a strong start, taking up positions in the morning and claiming the right to police the square, with Brotherhood volunteers checking the bags of those entering.

From a large stage with 10 loudspeakers, they blared religious songs and chants of "Allahu akbar" and set a tone of celebration for what they called the successes of the revolution, particularly the newly elected parliament.

But a dozen large marches organized by secular groups converged on Tahrir from various parts of the city, chanting "Down, down with military rule!" and filling boulevards as passers-by joined in along the way. The "non-Islamists" swarmed into the downtown plaza before sunset, jam-packing it to outnumber the Islamists.

Some marched to the sober beat of drums to pay tribute to the hundreds of protesters killed in the past year — by Mubarak's regime and the military — and to emphasize that this was not a joyous anniversary, with so many demands for democratic reform left unachieved.

There were no army troops or police present, a sign the military was looking to avoid an eruption of new clashes after deadly violence in October, November and December.