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Egypt extends emergency state for two months

Crackdown on Morsi supporters continues

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CAIRO, Egypt -- Egypt's interim president Thursday extended a nationwide state of emergency for two more months, preserving greater powers for security forces amid a crackdown on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and increasing violence by Islamic militants.

The nearly month-old state of emergency had been due to expire within days. It was first declared in mid-August after authorities cleared two protest encampments held by Morsi supporters, unleashing violence that claimed the lives of nearly 1,000 in subsequent days.

Ever since, a nighttime curfew has also been in effect in much of the country. The interim government will decide separately on whether to continue the curfew. Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has said the curfew, now lasting for seven hours most nights, would likely be eased.

The government announced new measures aimed at easing an economic crunch, in a sign it aims to show it is tackling the nation's problems even amid the exceptional security conditions.

The measures included relief for low-income families from school expenditures and reduction in public transportation costs. They also included an injection of $ 3.1-billion budget support to be spent on infrastructure projects and employment generation, which the government says it hopes will increase economic growth from the current 2 per cent to 3.5 per cent.

The spending will largely be financed from money pledged by Gulf countries to Egypt after Morsi's July 3 ouster, the government said.

Egypt's continued political instability has badly hit the country's economy, decimating tourism, a main revenue earner, and direct foreign investment. In recent rallies, Morsi supporters have increasingly sought to find public backing by evoking the hard economic conditions and authorities' failure to improve people's daily lives.

The extension of the state of emergency, which allows police wider powers of arrest, had been widely expected. The decree cited continued security concerns.

Scattered protests by Morsi supporters continue nearly daily, and the government says it faces a campaign of violence to destabilizing the country. Authorities have been carrying out a crackdown on supporters of Morsi, including leading members of his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, accusing them of inciting violence. Security officials say at least 2,000 Brotherhood members and other Islamists have been arrested in the past month.

At the same time, extremist attacks on police stations, government offices and churches have grown more brazen in south Egypt, the restive Sinai Peninsula and closer to the capital.

A day earlier, a pair of suicide bombers hit military targets in Sinai, killing nine soldiers. Last week, a suicide car bombing in Cairo targeted the convoy of Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police. Ibrahim escaped unharmed but a civilian was killed, in the first such political assassination attempt since Morsi's July 3 ouster.

A senior Egyptian official said Thursday authorities have foiled several "big terrorist attacks" recently. He said authorities expect more assassination attempts like the one on Ibrahim. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Under the interim constitution, the state of emergency can only be imposed for three months, then must be put to a public referendum. For most of the 30-year rule of Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was under a state of emergency, lifted only after Mubarak's ouster.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2013 A16

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