Cairo – Egyptian protesters defied a nighttime curfew in restive towns along the Suez Canal, attacking police stations and ignoring emergency rule imposed by Islamist President Mohamed Mursi to end days of clashes that have killed at least 52 people.
At least two men died in overnight fighting in the canal city of Port Said in the latest outbreak of violence unleashed last week on the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 revolt that brought down autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Political opponents spurned a call by Mursi for talks on Monday to try to end the violence.
Instead, huge crowds of protesters took to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria and in the three Suez Canal cities – Port Said, Ismailia and Suez – where Mursi imposed emergency rule and a curfew on Sunday.
“Down, down with Mohamed Mursi! Down, down with the state of emergency!” crowds shouted in Ismailia. In Cairo, flames lit up the night sky as protesters set police vehicles ablaze.
In Port Said, men attacked police stations after dark. A security source said some police and troops were injured. A medical source said two men were killed and 12 injured in the clashes, including 10 with gunshot wounds.
“The people want to bring down the regime,” crowds chanted in Alexandria. “Leave means go, and don’t say no!”
The demonstrators accuse Mubarak’s successor Mursi of betraying the two-year-old revolution. Mursi and his supporters accuse the protesters of seeking to overthrow Egypt’s first ever democratically elected leader through undemocratic means.
Since Mubarak was toppled, Islamists have won two referendums, two parliamentary elections and a presidential vote. But that legitimacy has been challenged by an opposition that accuses Mursi of imposing a new form of authoritarianism, and punctuated by repeated waves of unrest that have prevented a return to stability in the most populous Arab state.
The army has already been deployed in Port Said and Suez and the government agreed a measure to let soldiers arrest civilians as part of the state of emergency.
The instability unnerves Western capitals, where officials worry about the direction of powerful regional player that has a peace deal with Israel. The United States condemned the bloodshed and called on Egyptian leaders to make clear violence is not acceptable. ID:nW1E8MD01C].
In Cairo on Monday, police fired volleys of teargas at stone-throwing protesters near Tahrir Square, cauldron of the anti-Mubarak uprising. Demonstrators stormed into the downtown Semiramis Intercontinental hotel and burned two police vehicles.
A 46-year-old bystander was killed by a gunshot early on Monday, a security source said. It was not clear who fired.
“We want to bring down the regime and end the state that is run by the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Ibrahim Eissa, a 26-year-old cook, protecting his face from teargas wafting towards him.
The political unrest in the Suez Canal cities has been exacerbated by street violence linked to death penalties imposed on soccer supporters convicted of involvement in stadium rioting in Port Said a year ago.
Mursi’s invitation to opponents to hold a national dialogue with Islamists on Monday was spurned by the main opposition National Salvation Front coalition, which rejected the offer as “cosmetic and not substantive”.
The only liberal politician who attended, Ayman Nour, told Egypt’s al-Hayat channel after the meeting ended late on Monday that attendees agreed to meet again in a week.
He said Mursi had promised to look at changes to the constitution requested by the opposition but did not consider the opposition’s request for a government of national unity.
The president announced the emergency measures on television on Sunday: “The protection of the nation is the responsibility of everyone. We will confront any threat to its security with force and firmness within the remit of the law,” Mursi said.
His demeanor in the address infuriated his opponents, not least when he wagged a finger at the camera.
Some activists said Mursi’s measures to try to impose control on the turbulent streets could backfire.
“Martial law, state of emergency and army arrests of civilians are not a solution to the crisis,” said Ahmed Maher of the April 6 movement that helped galvanize the 2011 uprising. “All this will do is further provoke the youth. The solution has to be a political one that addresses the roots of the problem.”