Egypt's opposition is pressing for unity government

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CAIRO -- Facing dire warnings from the military about the country's growing chaos, Egyptian opposition leaders on Wednesday banded together for the first time and pressed President Mohammed Morsi to form a national unity government as a way to halt the violence that has led to dozens of deaths over the past week.

But even as secular and Islamist groups crossed an ideological divide to try to find a way out of the spiraling violence, Mr. Morsi rejected the idea during a visit to Germany, where he said a new government would be formed only after parliamentary elections in April.

"In Egypt, there is a stable government working day and night in the interest of all Egyptians," he said after meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

Still, the gambit by the opposition offered the first indication that political forces were searching for common ground and a way out of the chaos.

Egypt's largest secular-leaning opposition block, the National Salvation Front, joined a hard-line Islamist group, the Nour party, which had been allied with the president and his movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in urging a new government.

The political maneuvers in Cairo came a day after Egypt's defense chief warned of "the collapse of the state" if its quarreling political forces did not reconcile. The statement, by Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, was a stark reminder of Mr. Morsi's weakened authority after days of protests led him to declare a state of emergency in three cities along the Suez Canal when the police lost control.

Egyptians have reacted with growing frustration to the political feuding in Cairo and the deteriorating economy.As he left for Germany, Mr. Morsi abruptly backed down from some emergency measures he had imposed -- measures the public had already ignored -- saying he would leave it to local authorities of the troubled provinces to set their own curfews. On Wednesday, all three cities reduced the curfews to just a few hours early in the morning.

The visit to Germany further highlighted Mr. Morsi's troubles. Scheduled before the protests started, the president was forced to cut the trip short and cancel a planned visit to France.

If the president hoped to leave Egypt for a friendlier audience, he did not find it in Germany. Mr. Morsi was asked repeatedly about past anti-Semitic statements, in which he spoke of nurturing "our children and our grandchildren on hatred" of Jews, and called Zionists "bloodsuckers" and "the descendants of apes and pigs."

In his first public response since those comments surfaced, Mr. Morsi said his statements had been taken out of context, and that he was "not against Judaism as a religion," but, rather, had been condemning Israeli attacks on Palestinians.

In Berlin, Mr. Morsi also met with economic minister Philipp Rosler and leading German business representatives. Germany is Egypt's third most important trading partner.

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