Egypt defiant against Islamist leader

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CAIRO -- Protesters battled police for hours Monday in Cairo, and thousands marched through Egypt's three Suez Canal cities in direct defiance of a nighttime curfew and state of emergency, handing a blow to the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi's attempts to contain five days of spiraling political violence.

Nearly 60 people have been killed in the clashes, rioting and protests that have touched cities across the nation but have hit hardest in the canal cities, where residents have virtually risen up in outright revolt.

The latest death came Monday in Cairo, where a protester died of gunshot wounds as youths hurling stones battled all day and into the night with police firing tear gas near Qasr el-Nil Bridge, a landmark over the Nile next to major hotels. In nearby Tahrir Square, protesters set fire to a police armored personnel carrier, celebrating as it burned, in scenes reminiscent of the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

"I will be coming back here every day until the blood of our martyrs is avenged," said carpenter Islam Nasser, 19, who wore a Guy Fawkes mask as he battled police near Tahrir Square.

Angry and at times screaming and wagging his finger, Mr. Morsi on Sunday declared a 30-day state of emergency and a nighttime curfew in the three Suez Canal cities of Suez, Ismailiya and Port Said and their provinces of the same names. He said he had instructed police to deal "firmly and forcefully" with the unrest and threatened to do more if security were not restored.

But when the 9 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew began Monday evening, crowds marched through the streets of Port Said, beating drums and chanting, "Erhal, erhal" -- "Leave, leave" -- a chant that first rang out during the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak in 2011 but is now directed at Mr. Morsi.

In Suez and Ismailiya, thousands in the streets after curfew chanted against Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which he hails.

On Mr. Morsi's weekend orders, army troops backed with tanks and armored vehicles have deployed in Port Said and Suez -- the two cities worst hit by the violence -- to restore security, but they did not intervene to enforce the curfew Monday night.

Adding to Mr. Morsi's woes nearly seven months into his turbulent presidency, the main political opposition coalition on Monday rejected his invitation for a dialogue to resolve the crisis.

Nevertheless, the dialogue went ahead late Monday afternoon. A list of participants released later by the presidential palace showed that Mr. Morsi presided over an inaugural session made up almost entirely of fellow Islamists, whose support for him has never been in question.

The violence first erupted Thursday and accelerated Friday, when protests marking the two-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Mubarak uprising turned to clashes around the country that left 11 dead, most of them in Suez. The next day, riots exploded in Port Said after a court convicted and sentenced to death 21 defendants -- mostly locals -- for a mass soccer riot in the city's main stadium a year ago.

In Cairo, white clouds of tear gas hung over Qasr el-Nil Bridge from early Monday morning and through the evening, wafting into nearby districts. The fighting was reminiscent of scenes two years ago to the day, when police and protesters battered each other on the same bridge in the most violent day of the 2011 uprising.

"People died to gain their freedom, social justice, bread. Now, after 29 years of the despotic Mubarak, we're ruled by a worse regime: religious fascist, more dangerous," said Mohammed Saber, a 65-year old engineer who came to watch the clashes with his wife and children.

The geographical spread of the unrest and the tenacity of the protesters have showcased the depth of opposition to Mr. Morsi's rule outside the ranks of the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. But it will take the mostly liberal and secular opposition time and effort to translate this popular resentment of the Islamists into electoral power and seriously challenge them at the ballot box. The Islamists dominated elections for both houses of parliament late in 2011 and early 2012. Mr. Morsi narrowly won the presidency with less than 52 percent of the vote.



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