CAIRO - Thousands of Egyptians packed into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday to protest against a run for the presidency by former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, in an Islamist show of strength against Hosni Mubarak's old guard.

The Muslim Brotherhood - the biggest group in parliament - called the protest after Suleiman announced his candidacy last week. Both Islamists and secular reformists view it as a threat to democratic reform.

"Suleiman, do you think this is the old days?" chanted the protesters gathered in the square, the cradle of the uprising that swept Mubarak from power last year.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters waved the group's green flag and the red, white and black Egyptian national colors. "The people demand the fall of the regime," they chanted, a slogan used during the anti-Mubarak uprising. "Down, down with military rule," they chanted. They also sang the national anthem.

Banners showed Suleiman and Mubarak alongside the Star of David, depicting both as agents of Israel because of policies that included Egypt's role in enforcing a blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, which borders the Arab state.

Egypt has had a peace treaty with Israel since 1979 but Mubarak's Middle East policy, in large part managed by Suleiman, became the focus of ever sharper public criticism in his last years in power.

The council of army generals that has been running Egypt since Mubarak was deposed is due to hand power to an elected president on July 1. The vote, Egypt's first real presidential election, is due to get under way on May 23 and will likely go to a run-off in June between the top two candidates.

Frontrunners include the Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat al-Shater, ultra-orthodox Salafi sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, ex-Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq, who served as prime minister in Mubarak's last days in power.

The Islamist-dominated parliament on Thursday passed legislation that would stop both Suleiman and Shafiq from running on the grounds they served in top posts under Mubarak. However, analysts doubt the law will be enacted by the ruling generals, setting the stage for more tension.

In an interview with the state-run al-Ahram newspaper, Suleiman pledged to press ahead with his campaign.

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