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Mursi considers army takeover of Port Said

CAIRO: The Egyptian president is considering whether to give the military full control of the restive Suez Canal city of Port Said after days of deadly street clashes stoked by excessive use of force by riot police, officials said yesterday.
Muhammad Mursi met with his security chief and top military officers to discuss pulling out the police force and putting the military in charge to defuse the cycle of violence that has gripped the city, officials from the military and the president’s office said.
The latest round of rioting and violence in Port Said, which erupted on Sunday, has killed at least three civilians and three policemen and injured hundreds.
“The presidency is considering this option after relations between the security apparatus and the people of Port Said deteriorated,” said one of the officials. He added that the idea behind the proposal is that once the army takes control, it would presumably not get into confrontation with protesters.
The military sent reinforcement to Port Said late on Monday, after protesters torched a government building and police headquarters there. Witnesses said protesters lay down and slept on the asphalt to prevent fire engines from reaching the buildings on fire.
The officials said police have lost control over the city and the only way out was to hand it over to the military, which enjoys considerable support among Port Said residents.
Mursi’s deliberations come amid reports of tense relations between the president and the country’s Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi following a rumor that the minister could be sacked because he resisted to bring the military under the sway of Muslim Brotherhood.
Some opposition groups and figures want to see the military take over power after perceiving the country’s new leadership as incapable of ending Egypt’s deteriorating economy and increasing unrest.
The turmoil in Port Said started on Jan. 26, the day a court in the city on the northern edge of the Suez Canal handed down death sentences against 21 mostly Port Said residents over their involvement in a deadly February 2012 soccer riot in the city that killed 74 people, mostly fans of a rival Cairo soccer club, Al-Ahly.

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