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Last updated: January 28, 2013 9:03 am
Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s Islamist president, announced a month-long state of emergency in three troubled provinces bordering the strategic Suez Canal after a weekend of violence in which 48 people were killed in clashes with police.
He said a nightly curfew from 9pm to 6am would be imposed in the three neighbouring provinces of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez and warned that he had given clear orders to police “to deal with all firmness and power” with those who threatened lives or property.
He said he would take even tougher measures if he judged that the country was in danger.
“This is my duty, and I will not hesitate to fulfil it,” he said.
Mr Morsi also announced he would invite opposition leaders for a dialogue on Monday on how to emerge from the current crisis. He was speaking after a third day of violence in which seven people were killed in Port Said and hundreds injured.
The opposition National Salvation Front, an alliance of liberal and leftist groups, said it would meet on Monday to decide its response to Mr Morsi’s call for dialogue. Already, however, some NSF leaders have made dismissive remarks about the proposed talks.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian Nobel laureate and now a party leader, said in a tweet that the dialogue would be a waste of time unless Mr Morsi “assumed responsibility for the bloody events and undertook to form a national salvation government and a balanced committee to amend the constitution.”
The opposition is wary of talks with the president because agreements on an election law reached during a similar dialogue which he shepherded a few weeks ago were not implemented. The Shura Council, the upper chamber of parliament dominated by Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group, rejected the compromises reached during the dialogue.
In central Cairo over the weekend, stone-throwing youths cut bridges and fought running battles with police which responded with teargas. In Alexandria and the Delta town of Zagazig police also skirmished with bands of angry protesters in front of police stations and government offices.
But the worst of the unrest was in Port Said where fresh violence broke out on the sidelines of a mass funeral held for 30 people killed on Saturday in clashes with police sparked off by a court ruling sentencing to death 21 locals for their part in a deadly football riot last year.
Tens of thousands of angry residents marched behind a procession of caskets, chanting slogans against Mr Morsi and vowing to avenge the dead. Furious mourners charged that they were being scapegoated by a government trying to placate its critics in Cairo.
The violence underlines the difficulties facing Mr Morsi as he tries to consolidate his authority over a deeply divided country with fraying state institutions.
An official of the Muslim Brotherhood group on Sunday had urged the president to intervene to put a stop to the violence, even if he had to assume extraordinary powers.
“You need to stop the arson attacks, blocking roads, bridges and tunnels and provide security,” Mohamed al Beltagy said in a message posted on Facebook. “It is your duty to immediately intervene to face this thuggery through via all legitimate means provided by the constitution and the law, including declaring an emergency.
In Port Said on Sunday locals tried to storm two police stations, according to Al Ahram, the state-owned newspaper. Volleys of teargas were also fired at the funeral procession, reportedly from the direction of an army club, causing hundreds to head to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.
The army was deployed to safeguard government facilities in the city on Saturday after rioters sacked police stations and tried to storm the main prison to release imprisoned relatives who had been sentenced to death.
Mohsen Mohamed Mahfouz, director of a public hospital in Port Said, told the Financial Times that it had received about 124 cases, including 11 dead, over three days, of which 25 were injured with live bullets. He said the live ammunition wounds were mainly to the head and the chest.
Just hours before the Port Said clashes nine people were killed in the town of Suez in protests marking the second anniversary of the revolution.
Seventy-four football fans, mostly supporters of Ahly, a leading Cairo-based team, were killed in Port Said almost a year ago when supporters of Masry, the local side, were allowed by police to breach security barriers and invade the part of the stand occupied by their rivals. Many of the dead were crushed in a stampede to the exit but others were throttled and thrown off the stands.
Ahly fans, known as Ultras Ahlawy, cut a main bridge in Cairo on Wednesday and brought the city’s metro system to a standstill, demanding tough sentences from the court and vowing further disruption if it failed to deliver them.
Additional reporting by Amina Ashraf in Cairo
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