Middle East

Egypt opposition rejects Mohammed Morsi dialogue call

Mourners at funeral procession for Port Said victim - 28 January
Thousands turned out to mourn victims of the violence in Port Said

Egypt's main opposition alliance has rejected Mohammed Morsi's call for national dialogue amid continuing protests against the president.

Mr Morsi had urged opposition leaders to attend a meeting following four days of deadly violence.

Dozens have died since Saturday, when a court sentenced 21 people to death over football riots in Port Said last year.

Protesters defied a night-time curfew imposed by the authorities in Port Said, Suez and Ismailia.

A temporary state of emergency has been declared in the three cities along the Suez canal, but thousands of protesters took to the streets in the first hours after nightfall.

In Suez, people marched towards the headquarters of the provincial government, while in Port Said one man was killed as groups attacked police stations, according to medical sources.

Security men and soldiers were also injured, Egyptian authorities said.

Earlier, state news agency Mena reported six deaths in Port Said during daylight hours on Monday, when funerals were held for three people killed on Sunday.

No curfew has been imposed in the capital Cairo, despite violence that continued on Monday with one man killed by gunfire near Tahrir Square.

State TV said a total of 590 people had been injured in violence across Egypt on Monday, most of them in Port Said.

Meanwhile the human rights group Amnesty International condemned the use of violence by Egyptian security forces dealing with protests citing "disturbing eyewitness accounts of excessive force... including instances of lethal force".

'Form, not content'

Mr Morsi's call for dialogue appeared to fall on deaf ears, both in the streets and among political opponents.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading member of the opposition National Salvation Front, told journalists that before it would attend any national dialogue, the president would have to appoint a national unity government and take steps to amend the disputed constitution.

"The dialogue to which the president invited us is to do with form and not content," Mr ElBaradei said.

"We support any dialogue if it has a clear agenda that can shepherd the nation to the shores of safety."

Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, speaking at the same news conference, said: "We aspire to a dialogue, but there are no guarantees that this dialogue will be a success... while blood is being spilled."

Mr Morsi invited representatives from 11 political forces - Islamists, liberals and leftists - to come to the presidential palace for talks on Monday evening.

But the BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo says it is unclear who, if anyone, accepted the invitation.

She says the president had been hoping that dialogue could restore national unity amid growing concern about the scale of the latest unrest.

But the opposition accuses Mr Morsi of being autocratic and driving through a new constitution that does not adequately protect freedom of expression or religion.

In response to the growing violence on the streets, Egypt's cabinet on Monday approved a draft law allowing the army to participate in policing and have the power of arrest. The bill was later passed by the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament.

The text of the bill says the army will "support the police in maintaining order and protecting vital installations until the end of parliamentary elections and whenever the National Defence Council [headed by Mr Morsi] requests it".

The latest violent protests began in Port Said on Saturday when a court sentenced 21 local people to death over riots that killed 74 people at a football match last February.

Supporters of the Port Said side al-Masry attacked fans from the visiting Cairo club al-Ahly.

Most of the victims died of concussion, cuts and suffocation as the pitch was invaded at the end of the match.

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