Mursi seeks end to Egypt bloodshed

Updated 02 February 2013
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Mursi seeks end to Egypt bloodshed

CAIRO: A hard-line Islamist party normally allied to Egypt’s president joined the liberal opposition on Wednesday in calling for a national unity government as part of a plan aimed at ending the eruption of political violence that has shaken the country and left more than 60 dead the past week.
The unusual joint call puts further pressure on Islamist President Muhammad Mursi a day after the head of the armed forces warned that Egypt could collapse unless the country’s feuding political factions reconcile.
The warning by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was to both sides but was seen as an implicit criticism of Mursi, who has been unable to contain the unrest through an attempted firm hand. Mursi’s declaration of a month-long state of emergency and a curfew in three of the cities hardest hit by unrest has been overtly defied by the cities’ residents.
Seeking to build momentum from the military’s comments, Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the main liberal opposition National Salvation Front, called on Wednesday for a broad national dialogue grouping Mursi’s government, the Muslim Brotherhood, the ultraconservative Salafis and — in a nod to the generals’ role — the military.
The opposition has depicted the mayhem as a backlash against Islamists’ insistence on monopolizing power and as evidence that the Brotherhood and its allies are unable to manage the country on their own. The past week has seen protester attacks on police stations and government buildings, fierce clashes with security forces, shootings at protester funerals, cut-offs of railroads, mass marches and a virtual outright revolt in the Suez Canal city of Port Said —
Officials in the president’s office and the Brotherhood, in turn, have accused the opposition of condoning or even instigating violence in a bid to thwart Islamists’ repeated election victories. Mursi has invited the opposition to a dialogue, but the Front and most other parties refused, seeing his talks as window-dressing.
On Wednesday, the Salafi Al-Nour Party joined the Salvation Front in an initiative calling for a national unity government — effectively eroding the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip on decision-making — and for the amending of contentious articles of the Islamist-backed constitution.
For weeks, Mursi and the Brotherhood have ignored the Front’s repeated calls for a unity government. On Wednesday, Mursi dismissed the need for one, pointing out that a new government would be formed anyway after parliament elections expected in a few months. He downplayed the significance of the explosion of violence.
“What is happening now in Egypt is natural in nations experiencing a shift to democracy,” Mursi told reporters during a brief visit to Germany on Wednesday. “Nations take time to stabilize and in some countries that took many years. It has only been two years in Egypt and, God willing, things will stabilize soon.”
The unrest at home forced Mursi to truncate a planned visit to Europe, canceling a Paris leg and reducing his Berlin visit to a few hours to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, after which he was returning home.
Al-Nour and the Front make odd partners. Salafis in general have strongly backed Mursi in the crisis and regularly denounced the liberal and secular opposition, accusing them of trying to reverse Islamists’ election victories and of trying to prevent Egypt from being ruled by Shariah, or Islamic law. The party’s move may be aimed at distancing itself from Mursi’s Brotherhood ahead of the parliament elections.
After meeting with leaders from the Front, Al-Nour chief Younes Makhyoun said, “We are considered Islamists, and we are from the Islamic current but when we work for the sake of national reconciliation, we have to be neutral ... Egypt for all Egyptians.”
Egypt must not be ruled “by a single faction... but there must be a real partnership in decision-making and administration,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, two more protesters were killed Wednesday when they were hit with birdshot during clashes with police near Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a security official said, as violence continued for the seventh day. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Violence has spiraled after first erupting in Cairo on eve of last Friday’s second anniversary of the uprising that toppled authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak. It since spread around the country, with the worst violence in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, which has virtually declared itself in revolt against Mursi’s government. Nile Delta provinces have also witnessed street clashes and riots in front of state institutions, but no deaths reported.
In response, Mursi declared a 30-day state of emergency and night curfew in Port Said and two other Canal cities, Suez and Ismailiya, and their surrounding provinces.
But every night since it went into effect, tens of thousands of residents in the city have defied the curfew with nighttime rallies and marches, chanting against Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which forms the backbone of his rule.
Faced with the anger, Mursi authorized governors of the three provinces to either cancel or limit curfew hours. All three governments did so, reducing the curfew to four hours in Port Said, three hours in Ismailiya and six hours in Suez, down from seven hours.
Youth groups have called for mass rallies on Friday to march to the presidential palace in Cairo to demand an end to Mursi’s rule.
On Wednesday, security forces arrested five masked protesters suspected to belong to the Black Bloc, a group of protesters who wear masks and claim to “defend the revolution” against Islamists. The governments and state media have depicted them as dangerous thugs fueling violence against police and state institutions. Top prosecutor Talaat Abdullah ordered a day earlier that all members of the group be arrested on sight.
In a tweet, ElBaradei called for an immediate meeting between Mursi, the defense and interior ministers, the Brotherhood’s political party, Salafi parties and the National Salvation Front “to take urgent steps to stop the violence and start a serious dialogue.”
He said stopping the violence is the priority, but stuck by the front’s previous conditions for holding a dialogue — that Mursi form a national unity government and form a commission to amend contentious articles of the Islamist-backed constitution.
The joint initiative with Al-Nour calls for the replacement of the controversial top prosecutor, who was appointed by Mursi, and the “neutrality of state institutions” — a reference to accusations the Brotherhood and Salafis are trying to dominate national bodies. It also calls for a commission to amend contentious constitutional articles.
Al-Nour underwent a period of internal fighting that ended with election of new leader, after the party’s founder split and formed a new party. The party is the second biggest political force, securing a quarter of the seats in the lower house of parliament in elections in late 2011. The lower house was since disbanded by a court order and new elections are expected within a few months.
“Clearly there are real divisions within the Islamist bloc and they are not on the same page,” said Osama el-Ghazali Harb, member of the opposition and a political scientist. “Everyone feels that the situation is escalating and reaching a dangerous level. The country fracturing and there is violence everywhere.”


Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

A Syrian family rides with belongings on a tractor-drawn trailer as they flee from fighting in the southern Syrian province of Daraa on June 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

  • Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week
  • Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally

MOSCOW, BEIRUT: Thousands of people have fled opposition-held areas of southwestern Syria being targeted by regime bombardment, a war monitor said on Thursday, as Damascus steps up attacks on an area near the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 12,500 people had fled opposition-held areas of northeastern Daraa province in the past 48 hours.
The war has pivoted toward the southwest since the Syrian regime and its allies crushed the last remaining pockets of opposition-held territory near Damascus and the city of Homs.
Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally.
A major Syrian regime offensive in the area would risk an escalation of the seven-year-old war. The area is of strategic importance to Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Iranian influence in Syria.
Washington has warned it will take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to violations of the “de-escalation” deal.
Assad said earlier this month the regime, at Russia’s suggestion, was seeking to strike a deal in the southwest similar to agreements that have restored its control of other areas through withdrawals of opposition forces.
But he also said there had been no results yet and blamed “Israeli and American interference.” He said the territory would be recovered by force if necessary. Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week.

Russia ‘skeptical’ over UN report
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign minister on Thursday said he was “skeptical” about a UN report accusing the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghouta. The report published on Wednesday said forces loyal to the Syrian regime had deliberately starved civilians during the siege between February and April, among other crimes.
“We are in principle very skeptical toward the methods of this sort of work, whether it comes to war crimes or the use of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. When
questioned by journalists, Lavrov confirmed he had not seen the
report.

He said it was “based on data obtained through social networks, video that was filmed by witnesses,” rather than being put together on the ground.
The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the capital, ended in April when Damascus regained control of the rebel enclave.
As pro-government forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave, they used tactics that were “largely unlawful in nature,” the UN-commissioned report said.
The tactics, it said, “aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve.”
Russia has been involved in Syria’s civil war since September 2015. Its military support of the regime changed the course of the war, allowing government troops to retake more than half the country from rebels and the Daesh group.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.