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Thousands protest Egyptian President Morsi

CAIRO -- More than 200,000 people thronged Tahrir Square on Tuesday as protests over President Mohammed Morsi's assertion of near-absolute powers escalated into the biggest challenge yet to his and the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamist rule.

The crowd in Cairo's central plaza rivaled some of the protests of last year's uprising that drove autocrat Hosni Mubarak out of office. The same chants against Mubarak were now turned against Egypt's first freely elected leader.

"The people want to bring down the regime," and "erhal, erhal" (Arabic for "leave, leave") rang across the square.

Protests in Tahrir and in several other cities were sparked by edicts issued by Morsi last week that effectively neutralized the judiciary. But it turned into a broader outpouring of anger against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which opponents say have used election victories to monopolize power, squeeze out rivals, and dictate a new, Islamist constitution, while doing little to solve Egypt's mounting economic and security woes.

Clashes broke out in several cities as Morsi opponents tried to attack offices of the Brotherhood, setting fire to one. At least 100 people were injured when protesters and Brotherhood members protecting their office pelted each other with stones and firebombs in Mahalla el-Kobra in the Nile Delta.

"Power has exposed the Brotherhood. We discovered their true face," said Laila Salah, a housewife in the Tahrir protest who said she had voted for Morsi. After Mubarak, she said, Egyptians would no longer consent to an autocrat. "It's like a wife whose husband was beating her and then she divorces him and becomes free."

Gehad el-Haddad, a senior adviser to the Brotherhood and its political party, said Morsi would not back down. "We are not rescinding the declaration," he told The Associated Press.

A tweet by the Brotherhood warned that, if the opposition could bring out 200,000 to 300,000 people, "they should brace for millions" for Morsi.

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