Mursi cancels Paris visit amid crisis at home

Updated 31 January 2013
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Mursi cancels Paris visit amid crisis at home

CAIRO/BERLIN: Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi flew to Germany yesterday to try to convince Europe of his democratic credentials.
Meanwhile, two more protesters were shot dead before dawn near Cairo’s central Tahrir Square on the seventh day of what has become the deadliest wave of unrest since Mursi took power.
The Egyptian army chief warned on Tuesday that the state was on the brink of collapse if Mursi’s opponents and supporters did not end street battles that have marked the two-year anniversary of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Because of the crisis, Mursi has curtailed his European visit, canceling plans to go to Paris after Berlin.
Near Tahrir Square yesterday, dozens of protesters threw stones at police who fired back teargas, although the scuffles were brief.
Opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei called for a meeting between the president, government ministers, the ruling party and the opposition to halt the violence. But he also restated the opposition’s precondition that Mursi first commit to seeking a national unity government, which the president has so far rejected.
Mursi’s critics accuse him of keeping too much power in his own hands and those of his Muslim Brotherhood, the party banned under Mubarak, which won repeated elections since the 2011 uprising.
Mursi’s supporters say the protesters want to overthrow Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. The unrest has prevented a return to stability ahead of parliamentary elections due within months, and worsened an economic crisis that has seen the pound currency tumble in recent weeks.
The worst violence has been in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, where rage was fueled by death sentences passed against soccer fans for deadly riots last year. Mursi responded by announcing on Sunday a month-long state of emergency and curfew in Port Said and two other Suez Canal cities.
Protesters have ignored the curfew and returned to the streets. Human Rights Watch called for Mursi to lift the decree.
Mursi will be keen to allay the West’s fears over the future of the most populous Arab country when he meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel and powerful industry groups in Berlin.
“We have seen worrying images in recent days, images of violence and destruction, and I appeal to both sides to engage in dialogue,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a radio interview yesterday ahead of Mursi’s arrival.
Germany’s “offer to help with Egypt’s transformation clearly depends on it sticking to democratic reforms”, he added.


Jordan arrests 17 protesters against fiscal reform

Updated 5 min 28 sec ago
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Jordan arrests 17 protesters against fiscal reform

AMMAN: Seventeen Jordanians were arrested over protests against a controversial fiscal reform, a judicial source in Amman said on Friday.
The attorney general in the capital decided to “arrest 17 people who he accused of participating the previous day in a protest near the prime minister’s office and of provoking trouble which resulted in police and members of the security forces being wounded,” the source said.
Those arrested would be kept in custody for a week, the judicial source said, without specifying how many police had been wounded.
A thousand Jordanians had taken to the streets of Amman on Thursday to protest against an income tax law adopted in November under an austerity program aimed at reducing public debt.
The protesters gathered near Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz’s office, which was cordoned off by security forces.
“Down with the tax law,” read one sign, held aloft by demonstrators calling for “reforms and change.”
“We want a government of patriots, not a gang of thieves,” the protesters said.
Jordanian lawmakers on November 18 approved an IMF-backed income tax bill after making amendments to a controversial draft law that sparked a week of angry protests in June.
The original bill, which the government approved in June, raised taxes for employees by at least five percent, and on companies by between 20 and 40 percent.
These measures were left unchanged in the amended version.
But in a concession, the revised bill raises the 2019 threshold for households to pay income tax to 20,000 Jordanian dinars ($28,000) from a previous ceiling of 18,000.
The amended legislation also introduced exemptions of up to 2,000 dinars per family for basic expenses such as education and health, and 1,000 dinars per single person, if receipts are provided.
The demonstrators on Thursday chanted for the release of 24 activists local media said had been detained in smaller scale protests over the last two weeks.
With a lack of natural resources to boost state coffers, Jordan relies heavily on foreign aid and has an unemployment rate of 18.5 percent.
Stability in Jordan is seen as fundamental to the region and in the wake of the June protests Amman was offered a $2.5 billion aid package by three Gulf backers, including Saudi Arabia.