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Muslim Brotherhood supporters rally in Egypt

CAIRO (AP) — Thousands of supporters of Egypt's ousted president and his Muslim Brotherhood group marched Friday in Cairo, part of a plan to pressure the military-backed government ahead of a court hearing for the toppled head of state.

Supporters of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first elected president, demonstrated in Cairo's southern district of Maadi. Some held pictures of their fallen members. They marched on the Constitutional Court there, calling for Morsi to be reinstated and urging military leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to step aside.

Other scattered protests occurred across Egypt. An umbrella group of Islamist parties, including the Brotherhood, said Friday's rallies were the beginning of a weeklong protest campaign until Nov. 4 when Morsi is scheduled to appear in court. The campaign has been dubbed the week of "steadfastness."

Morsi faces criminal charges accusing him of inciting the murder of rallying opponents while he was in office. Authorities have not said whether Morsi will appear at the hearing. If he does, it will be his first public appearance since the July 3 coup.

Morsi was overthrown along with his Brotherhood-led government after millions protested against his leadership, claiming the Islamist president was incompetent and overstepped his authority during a year in power.

Since then, Brotherhood supporters have staged near-daily rallies around the country, protesting security crackdown in which hundreds have been killed and more than 2,000 of group's members have been jailed. Morsi has been held incommunicado since his ousting and a court has ordered an outright ban on his group.

Authorities appear to have expanded the scope of the crackdown. A police officer was suspended from his duties in the Nile province of Gharbiya, north of Cairo, because he was suspected of being a Brotherhood member, security officials said Friday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

The decision could signal that the military-backed leadership will purge Brotherhood members from the security forces, a move that could deepen tensions. Morsi supporters and those backing the military already accuse each other using violence to advance their causes.

Although Brotherhood supporters have been staging rallies regularly since the overthrow, their numbers have been dwindling on the streets of Cairo as the security forces crack down and authorities fortify government institutions and the capital's major squares.

Egypt's riot police smashed two protest camps of Morsi supporters in mid-August, killing hundreds of protesters and touching off days of the deadliest violence since the country's Arab Spring protests.

While the Brotherhood's ranks appear to have thinned since, the resolve of those still protesting remains firm. "I am here protesting because the country is being stolen," said Mohammed Kassam, a university professor who attended a protest Friday in Cairo. "There are people who have the arms and the tanks and want to oppress people and impose their will on them."

Associated Press writers Barbara Surk and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report.

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