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Clashes between Egyptian protesters and unknown assailants left at least seven people dead, as the worst street violence in Cairo this year added to the unrest in the country three weeks before slated presidential elections.
Separately, in an apparent bid to allay continued doubts about its intention to hand over power as scheduled to a civilian government by July 1, the ruling military council indicated that it was considering an even earlier timeframe.
The violence that erupted around dawn yesterday near the Defense Ministry prompted two leading presidential candidates to announce they were suspending their campaigns in protest. Mohamed Mursi, who was fielded for the presidency by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, put the blame primarily on the ruling military and said he was suspending his campaigning for two days.
“The military council, which has security and intelligence capabilities, must look for the culprits and enforce the law against those who are trying to derail” the transition to democracy, Mursi told reporters yesterday. “We hold the military council responsible because it’s the one that runs the country, has the authority and the security forces.”
He said that reports that the protesters had been infiltrated by individuals who sparked the violence must be investigated. The Associated Press said 11 people may have died, citing medical officials and police records.
The parliament’s lower house, in a statement carried by MENA, said it was worried that the unrest was fomented by people intent on derailing the country’s push to democracy after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year.
Presidential contender Mohamed Selim el-Awa said in a statement that the violence was a “diabolic attempt to drag the country into a crisis from which it could not emerge safely,” the agency reported. Incidents of fatal street violence last year were largely blamed by many in Egypt on supporters of Mubarak.
The fighting, which also left at least 64 wounded according to Badawi Mohamed, a Health Ministry spokesman, was the latest outbreak of unrest that has hampered efforts to restore stability and revive economic growth in Egypt after the popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak. The Islamist-dominated parliament is calling for the resignation of the military- appointed government in the run-up to presidential elections due to begin on May 23. The ruling generals say they will hand over power after the vote.
Islamist presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh announced on his Twitter account that he was suspending his campaign, and said the state “must protect peaceful demonstrations.”
Police and military forces were deployed to halt the violence hours after the clashes erupted, Nile News reported. Many of the protesters were supporters of Hazem Abou Ismail, the Salafi lawyer-turned-cleric who was disqualified from the presidential race because his mother held U.S. citizenship before her death. Abou Ismail has criticized the move as an attempt to sideline him from the race.
Seif Abu Samra, the head of the prosecutor’s office in the Cairo neighborhood of Waili, said there were seven killed and that many of the dead had gunshot wounds. Earlier, the Health Ministry had reported at least nine were killed.
Mursi’s comments reflect the Brotherhood’s ongoing battle with the military council over who is to blame for the country’s woes. The showdown has mired Egypt in political paralysis, with a panel to draft the new constitution disbanded, a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund delayed by political wrangling and the constitutional court due to rule May 6 on the legitimacy of the parliament.
A meeting yesterday between party leaders and the military council to discuss the formation of a panel to draft a new constitution was boycotted by several of the groups, such as the Freedom and Justice Party and the Wafd, due to the violence. The military is considering the possibility of handing over power to a civilian government on May 24 if a clear winner emerges in the first round of the elections, lawmaker Moustafa Bakri cited armed forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sami Enan as saying during the meeting.
A parliamentary committee shot down an earlier proposal for the committee’s composition, raising doubts whether the charter will be written and approved before the new president takes office by the end of June.
Mursi said that the presidential elections should not be postponed, even though it appeared it would be “difficult” to finish the constitution before the election. He vowed that if elected, he would work to ensure that the charter was completed in a “matter of months, not years.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org Mariam Fam in Cairo at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Digby Lidstone at firstname.lastname@example.org