Egypt President Mohammed Morsi declares curfew

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CAIRO -- President Mohammed Morsi declared a state of emergency and curfew in three Suez Canal provinces hit hardest by a weekend wave of unrest that left more than 50 dead, using tactics of the ousted regime to get a grip on discontent over his Islamist policies and the slow pace of change.

Angry and almost screaming, Morsi vowed in a televised address last night that he would not hesitate to take even more action to stem the latest eruption of violence. At the same time, he sought to reassure Egyptians that his latest moves would not plunge the country back into authoritarianism.

"There is no going back on freedom, democracy and the supremacy of the law," he said.

The worst violence was in the Mediterranean coastal city of Port Said, where seven people were killed yesterday, pushing the toll there for two days to at least 44.

The unrest was sparked by the death sentence handed down Saturday to 21 people involved in a Feb. 1 soccer riot that left 74 dead in Port Said's main stadium. Most of those sentenced to death were local soccer fans from Port Said, deepening a sense of persecution that area residents have felt since the stadium disaster.

Elsewhere, at least another 11 died on Friday during rallies marking the second anniversary of the anti-Mubarak uprising. Protesters used the occasion to renounce Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The curfew and state of emergency, both in force for 30 days, affect the provinces of Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez. The curfew takes effect today from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Morsi, in office since June, also invited the nation's political forces to a dialogue starting today to resolve the latest crisis.

Khaled Dawoud, spokesman for the National Salvation Front, said Morsi's invitation was meaningless unless he clearly states what is on the agenda. That, he said, must include amending a disputed constitution hurriedly drafted by the president's Islamist allies and rejected by the opposition.

In an ominous sign Sunday, a one-time jihadist group blamed the secular opposition for the violence and threatened to set up militia to defend the government it supports.

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In Port Said yesterday, tens of thousands of mourners poured into the streets for a mass funeral for most of the 37 people who died on Saturday. They chanted slogans against Morsi.

There was also a funeral in Cairo for two policemen killed in the Port Said violence a day earlier. Several angry police officers heckled Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim when he arrived, according to witnesses.

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