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Ultraconservative Muslims rally in Cairo

CAIRO -- Tens of thousands of ultraconservative Muslims in long beards, robes and prayer caps thronged Cairo's central Tahrir Square in a massive demonstration Friday. They called for the implementation of strict Islamic laws and sparred with liberal activists over their visions for a post-revolution Egypt.

It was the first rally with religious overtones in Egypt, and one of the largest, since the uprising that forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down in February. The strong showing by the Islamists demonstrated their powerful organizational abilities, which will likely help them in parliamentary elections later this year.

The rally featured chants of "Islamic. Islamic. Not Western or Eastern. No liberal or secular," from Salafis, who follow a strict form of Islam, echoed through the square.

The youth activists who have been at the helm of mass protests calling for faster change from the country's interim military rulers withdrew from the rally soon after Friday prayers, accusing the Islamists of violating an agreement to avoid divisive issues.

"While the civil organizations are trying to respect the effort to complete the revolution by unifying the ranks, the Islamic groups insisted on breaking the unity and assisting the military council in a deal that I think will divide this country in two," said liberal activist Mustafa Shawki.

Several hundred protesters have camped out at the square for more than three weeks, demanding swifter justice for those blamed in the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising and more measures to ensure Mubarak loyalists are purged from the government.

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