Egypt Frees Political Prisoners Under Reforms Promised by Mubarak

Freeing prisoners is one of first moves the Egyptian president has made to implement reforms promised in an attempt to quell mass protests which have continued for over two weeks.

Egypt has released 34 political prisoners, the state news agency said on Tuesday, the first men set free since the government of President Hosni Mubarak promised reforms to quell a popular uprising.

"Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdy issued an order today releasing 34 political detainees considered to be among the extremist elements, after evaluating their positions," the MENA agency said.

"They showed good intentions and expressed their desire to live peaceably with society," it added.

It said they had handed themselves over to the authorities after escaping from prison during several days of disorder last month.

Security forces were withdrawn from the streets after failing to crush millions of protesters on Jan. 28. Security broke down at many prisons around the country.

In the 1990s, Egypt fought Islamist militant groups who wanted to replace Mubarak's secular republic with an Islamic state. Many Islamist militants remain in jail from the time of Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by soldiers linked to a radical Islamist group in 1981.

Human rights groups say it is not clear how many people are detained in Egypt for political activities, such as joining banned groups or planning or carrying out acts of violence, but they estimate them to be in their thousands.

Mubarak has offered concessions to try to end the revolt, appointing a vice-president and a new cabinet and promising political reforms. The government said this could include freeing detainees and lifting emergency laws.

The embattled president also set up a committee on Tuesday to recommend constitutional amendments to relax presidential eligibility rules and impose term limits.

The government has promised several concessions since the uprising began on Jan. 25 but has refused the protesters' main demand that Mubarak step down immediately instead of staying on through September elections. Tuesday's decision was the first concrete step taken by the longtime authoritarian ruler to implement promised reforms.