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Canadians rally in support of democracy in Egypt

They were an ocean away from the action, but they still waved Egyptian flags, sported placards calling for democracy and demanded Hosni Mubarak's resignation.

Canadians took to the streets in several cities across the country Saturday asking for the ouster of Egypt's embattled president followed by free elections in the North African country.

"Mubarak, Mubarak, Go, Go" was the rallying cry as they gathered in solidarity with tens of thousands who thronged Cairo's central Tahrir Square in a 12th day of demonstrations.

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In Toronto, some 1,000 people came together for a noisy but peaceful demonstration at the Ontario legislature to show their counterparts in Egypt that they weren't alone.

Meanwhile in Montreal, several hundred people marched through the downtown core, calling for the 82-year-old president to quit after his nearly 30 years of authoritarian power. Some 300 more rallied on Parliament Hill while rallies were also scheduled in Windsor, Ont., Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Protesters also gathered Saturday at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, the federal building in New Orleans and CNN headquarters in Atlanta as well as in New York and Seattle to call for Mr. Mubarak to step down.

Reports out of Egypt on Saturday brought word of six top members of the ruling party resigning, including Gamal Mubarak, the president's son. But President Hosni Mubarak himself insisted on remaining in power until September.

The news made waves among the demonstrators in Canada.

Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton told a cheering crowd in Toronto that the Canadian government must pressure the Egyptian leader to step down.

"Stop supporting Mubarak and start supporting the people Mr. Harper," he said. "Offer to the people of Egypt the full support of Canada in the transition to democracy."

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Canada has so far refrained from asking for Mr. Mubarak's ouster.

During his visit to Washington on Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it's clear change is occurring in Egypt. But it's important that the transition to democracy be guided by the rule of law and respect for human rights, he said.

Mr. Layton however maintained that the Tory government must forcefully condemn the violence and call for Mubarak to resign. But he admitted with change, comes worry of destabilization.

"We're talking here about dictatorship, we're talking about a people that have been subjugated, about a democracy, so-called, that's been a sham."

Mr. Layton said Canada could offer its expertise to help Egypt transition to democracy, including sending observers to supervise elections.

Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis told the Toronto crowd the Egyptian president should have left "long ago."

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"Dictators and dictatorships have very little left time in this world," he said.

Chanting "Mubarak, Mubarak, Leave, Leave" and "1, 2 3, 4, Kick Mubarak Out the Door," protesters held banners and signs reading "Leave," "Enough!" and "Defend Egypt's Democracy Movement, Mubarak Out Now."

Neveen Korayem, 37, brought her seven-year-old daughter Hana Zaghloul to the Grade 2 student's first protest. The homemaker moved to Canada a year ago because her family's salary wasn't enough to give them the quality of life they wanted in Egypt.

"I want President Mubarak to step down immediately because it's turning into a huge crisis like Egypt has never seen before," Ms. Korayem said.

She added that Mr. Mubarak staying on till September would only make the situation worse.

Egyptian-Canadian chemist Mohamed Haassan, 43, said he came to the rally to demand freedom for his homeland.

"The regime needs to get out right now. Enough is enough," he said.

Meanwhile, Egyptian-Canadian Lemme Ibrahim, who helped organize the protest, said she has a huge sense of pride, dignity and respect for the Egyptian people for standing up for their freedom.

Those attending the Toronto rally held a moment of silence for the Egyptian demonstrators who have died since the uprising began on Jan. 25. Some reports list at least 109 killed, although demonstrators said some 300 died.

"We are really sorry for the people who died," said 47-year-old travel consultant Lamia Youssef.

"If they die for a reason and they are standing up for what they believe in," she said, their deaths won't be in vain.

In Montreal, Alaa El Bashtlay, a high school student originally from Egypt, said most of her family still lives in the country and she worries about them.

"I'm hoping that people in Egypt will hear our voices, (and) know that we are supporting them," she said.

"I'm just trying to make a difference, even if it's a really little difference."

For others, the rally was an effort to grab the government's attention.

Alan Ossama, who moved to Montreal three years ago, said he wants the federal government to side more clearly with the anti-Mubarak protesters in Egypt.

Mr. Ossama said he isn't asking the federal government to send in soldiers, he just wants their support.

"We are hoping we have the democracy and liberty we are dreaming of," he said.

"It's the moment to come and support the Egyptian people."

- With a report from the Associated Press

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