- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s military ruler on Tuesday decreed a partial lifting of the nation’s hated emergency laws, an apparent attempt to ease criticism of his policies ahead of the first anniversary of the popular uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said in a televised address that the draconian laws, in force for more than three decades, would be lifted effective Wednesday but would remain applicable to crimes committed by “thugs.” The military often has labeled organizers of anti-government demonstrations “thugs.”

Field Marshal Tantawi’s decision to partially lift the emergency laws, which give police far-reaching powers, likely will not satisfy rights groups that have been campaigning for their total removal.

Rights groups say at least 12,000 civilians have been tried before military tribunals since the military council took power. Many of them, they say, were charged with acts of “thuggery” when, in fact, they were protesters.

The term also has been used to ridicule the military in the independent press, and some of the young protesters in recent demonstrations have been chanting, “We are thugs!” At least 80 protesters have been killed by troops since October.

An Egyptian protester reads a newspaper outside a tent in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, a day before planned demonstrations to mark the first anniversary of the start of the uprising that deposed President Hosni Mubarak. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
An Egyptian protester reads a newspaper outside a tent in Tahrir Square ... more >

To mark the anniversary, the rulers pledged to release more than 1,900 people who were tried in military courts. The release was set for Wednesday morning.

In another apparent good-will gesture, blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad was freed Tuesday. He was arrested in March and sentenced by a military court to three years in prison over his criticism of the military’s use of violence against protesters.

Field Marshal Tantawi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces he chairs took power when an 18-day uprising forced Mr. Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11, 2011.

To mark the anniversary Wednesday, protesters are expected to take to the streets to call on the military to immediately step down and to demand retribution for hundreds of protesters killed by Mr. Mubarak’s security forces or at the hands of troops in subsequent clashes.

“I’m here for the rights of martyrs. A year has passed and nothing has changed,” protester Mohammed Khalil said he sat in a tent he erected Tuesday night at Tahrir Square, birthplace of the anti-Mubarak uprising and the main venue of Wednesday’s protests.

Mr. Khalil was one of several thousand protesters who gathered at Tahrir Square on Tuesday night to erect tents and build podiums in preparation for Wednesday’s demonstrations.

Field Marshal Tantawi was Mr. Mubarak’s defense minister for some 20 years, during which he was known to be unquestioningly loyal to the ousted leader. He and the other generals, according to activists, remain beholden to Mr. Mubarak, whose approval was essential for their promotion through the ranks.

Mr. Mubarak ruled for 29 years, and the emergency laws were in force throughout.

The activists behind Mr. Mubarak’s ouster accuse the ruling generals of bungling the transition, large-scale human rights violations, and the use of excessive and sometimes deadly force against peaceful protesters.

Last month, video clips showing troops brutally beating protesters and stomping on them while they lay on the ground created an uproar. The images tainted the military’s reputation as the nation’s chief protector and its most powerful institution.

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