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Egypt opposition urges dialogue to end violence

January 30, 2013

Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi shout slogans and fling stones with slingshots at riot policemen along Simon Bolivar Square, which leads to Tahrir Square, in Cairo January 30, 2013. Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi flew to Germany on Wednesday to try to convince Europe of his democratic credentials, leaving behind a country in crisis after a week of violence that has killed more than 60 people. — Reuters Photo

CAIRO: Egypt's liberal opposition leader called for a broad national dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood government, all political factions and the powerful military on Wednesday, aimed at stopping the country's eruption of political violence that has left more than 60 dead the past week.        

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei's appeal appeared to be aimed at responding to a sharp warning by the head of the armed forces a day earlier that Egypt could collapse unless the country's feuding political factions reconcile.

Two more protesters were killed Wednesday when they were hit with birdshot during clashes with police near Cairo's Tahrir Square, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press.

So far the opposition National Salvation Front headed by ElBaradei and the government of President Mohammed Morsi have been at loggerheads, with the front demanding Morsi make major concessions as a condition for any dialogue.

Morsi has ignored their demands, holding his own ''national dialogue'' program, mainly with his own allies.

Meanwhile, violence has spiraled after first erupting in Cairo on the eve of last Friday's second anniversary of the uprising that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak. It since spread around the country, with the worst violence in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, which has virtually declared itself in revolt against Morsi's government.

In response, Morsi declared a 30-day state of emergency and night curfew in Port Said and two other Canal cities, Suez and Ismailiya, and their surrounding provinces. But every night since it went into effect, tens of thousands of residents in the city have defied the curfew with nighttime rallies and marches, chanting against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which forms the backbone of his rule.

In a tweet, ElBaradei called for an immediate meeting between Morsi, the defense and interior ministers, the Brotherhood's political party, the National Salvation Front and parties of the ultraconservative Salafi movement ''to take urgent steps to stop the violence and start a serious dialogue.''

He said stopping the violence is the priority, but stuck by the front's previous conditions for holding a dialogue: That Morsi form a national unity government and form a commission to amend contentious articles of the constitution.

There was no immediate response from the presidency or the Muslim Brotherhood on ElBaradei's new call. Morsi was on a brief visit to Germany and was expected back in Egypt later Wednesdsay.

Over the past week, Morsi ignored ElBaradei's demands, and the Brotherhood said they don't accept conditions for talks.

The Front has depicted the unrest as a backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood’s insistence on monopolising power and as evidence that the Brotherhood and its allies are unable to manage the country on their own.        Morsi has been holding his own national dialogue programme for more than a month, touting it as a chance for others to make their voice heard in decision-making.

But almost all opposition groups have shunned it as mere window dressing. Officials in the presidency and the Brotherhood have blamed the opposition for instigating the violence, accusing them of trying to bring down Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president.

Late Tuesday, Morsi authorised governors of the three provinces to either cancel or limit curfew hours in an attempt to assuage public anger. Suez Governor General Samer Aglan said that he will ease up the curfew while deploying more troops to the streets after midnight.