Egypt: official indicates curfew to end Thursday

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Associated Press

Posted on November 11, 2013 at 7:36 AM

Updated Monday, Nov 11 at 3:05 PM

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's interior minister indicated that a curfew and state of emergency in place for the past three months will expire Thursday as scheduled, saying security reinforcements will be deployed as a preventive measure in the face of protests by the supporters of the ousted president.

The curfew and emergency laws have been a key tool in authorities' crackdown on the mainly Islamist supporters of Mohammed Morsi, who was toppled by the military on July 3.

His backers have been holding small rallies nearly every day demanding his reinstatement, but they have generally dispersed at curfew time. The state of emergency also gave security forces expanded powers of arrest.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of police, told the state news agency on Monday that "once the curfew and state of emergency end on Nov. 14," security forces will be deployed to main streets and city centers across the country to "to tighten control and instill a feeling of confidence and security in citizens."

Egypt imposed the curfew based on the state of emergency, which was put in place on Aug. 14, when security forces violently dispersed two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo. Hundreds of people were killed and the days of unrest that followed left more than 1,000 dead.

Over the past months, Egypt has been hit by a spiral of violence. Suspected Islamist supporters of Morsi have torched dozens of churches and police stations in retaliation. Ibrahim himself survived an assassination attempt by a suicide car bomber. Militant attacks on police and army troops have spiked in the volatile Sinai Peninsula.

After one month, the state of emergency was extended for two more months. But to extend it beyond that point, a public referendum is required, according to the country's transitional constitution.

The curfew has run from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. six days a week. It began at 7 p.m. on Fridays, a day when Morsi supporters traditionally attempt larger protests.

In an attempt to empower security forces, the military-backed interim government is working on a controversial new law that would restrict the right to protest by forcing organizers to seek a permit to hold any gathering — something authorities can deny if they see it threatening public order.

The proposed law also bans protests at places of worship — a frequent launching point for protests by Morsi supporters — and allows for heavy fines or possible jail time for violators.

An initial draft of the law sparked a storm of criticism from rights activists who said it could be used to prevent dissent in general. Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi was forced to withdraw the draft for revisions.

Egypt was under emergency laws for some 31 years under former President Hosni Mubarak, and police were notorious for abusing their far-reaching powers under the laws. That was one key factor fueling public outrage in the uprising that ousted Mubarak in 2011.

The anticipated lifting of the curfew and state of emergency comes head of demonstrations planned on Nov. 19 by both Morsi supporters and opponents, raising concerns of new violence.

Ibrahim warned Islamists against using the day to "spread chaos in the streets," saying "security forces have taken all measures to deal with the demonstrations."

Lifting the emergency law and curfew is seen as a positive step toward return to normalcy, and stabilization needed for economic recovery after nearly three years of turmoil has hit the economy hard.

In an attempt to send more assuring signs, the military-backed government is pushing through a fast-track transition plan, aimed at holding referendum on an amended constitution this year or early next year.

Parliamentary elections are expected early next year and presidential elections are in the summer, the interim president's political adviser Mustafa Hegazy said, according to the state news agency.

A 50-member panel amending the mainly Islamist-drafted constitution passed during Morsi's presidency, is currently voting on articles for a final draft.

Among the changes passed by the panel so far is an article that would strengthen the president if he's in confrontation with parliament over appointing a prime minister, the panel's spokesman Mohammed Salmawy told reporters.

The article gives the largest bloc in parliament one chance to choose a prime minister and win parliamentary approval. If it fails, the president makes the choice and if parliament fails to endorse it, the president can disband parliament.

In a constitution adopted under Morsi, parliament had two chances.

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