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Mursi gives army arrest powers

- Armed forces can nab civilians until results of vote are announced

Cairo, Dec. 10 (Reuters): Egypt’s Islamist President has given the army temporary power to arrest civilians to help secure a constitutional referendum seen by the Muslim Brotherhood as a triumph for democracy and by its liberal foes as a religious straitjacket.

President Mohamed Mursi, bruised by the political uproar in which protesters have besieged his graffiti-besmirched palace to demand his downfall, has rescinded a November 22 decree giving him wide powers, but has not budged on the referendum date.

A decree issued by Mursi late yesterday means the armed forces can arrest civilians and refer them to prosecutors until the results of the referendum are announced.

Despite its limited nature, the edict will revive memories of Hosni Mubarak’s emergency law, also introduced as a temporary expedient, under which military or state security courts tried thousands of political dissidents and Islamist militants.

A cabinet source said ministers had reviewed the decree last week, saying troops had secured elections during a military-run transition after Mubarak but, with a civilian President in charge, now needed a decree to allow them to play that role.

Protests and violence have racked Egypt since Mursi decreed himself extraordinary powers he said were needed to speed up a troubled transition since Mubarak’s fall 22 months ago.

Whatever the outcome of Saturday’s referendum, the crisis has polarised Egypt and presages more instability at a time when Mursi needs to enact tough policies to steady a fragile economy. With the political crisis heating the streets, Mursi suspended tax increases today, only hours after the measures had been officially enacted, casting doubts on the government’s ability to push through tough economic reforms that form part of a proposed $4.8 billion IMF loan agreement.

Islamists and their opponents are planning rival rallies in different parts of Cairo before the vote set for Saturday. Rejecting the referendum, Opposition groups have called for mass protests tomorrow, saying Mursi’s eagerness to push the Constitution through could lead to “violent confrontation”.

Islamists have urged their followers to turn out “in millions” the same day in a show of support for the President and for a referendum they feel sure of winning with their loyal base and perhaps with the votes of Egyptians weary of turmoil.

 
 
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