Egypt's leader mulls army takeover of restive city
Cairo: Egypt's Islamist 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 on Tuesday.
A handover of the city to the military would be a recognition of the failure of Mohammed Mursi's government to bring calm to Port Said, which has been in turmoil since late January. With protests and strikes that have turned into an outright revolt, residents have been venting their fury at both the president and the security forces.
A third day of clashes erupted at around daybreak today as police opened fire with tear gas and birdshot at protesters throwing stones and firebombs at the local headquarters of the National Security Agency, setting part of the building on fire.
The latest round of rioting and violence in Port Said has left at least three civilians and three policemen dead and hundreds injured since Sunday.
Port Said's protesters largely see the military more positively. Some cheered and chanted "the people and army are one hand" Sunday when troops fired over the heads of police in an attempt to push them back from clashes with protesters outside police headquarters. Still, it is not clear they would halt the unrest if the army took control.
Mursi met with his security chief and top military officers to discuss pulling police out of Port Said and putting the military in charge of security in the streets on hopes of bringing calm, officials from the military and the president's office said.
"The presidency is considering this option after relations between the security apparatus and the people of Port Said deteriorated," said one official in the president's office. 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 officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media about the president's deliberations.