Cairo: The Egyptian president is considering whether to give the military full control of the restive Suez Canal city of Port Saeed after days of deadly street clashes stoked by excessive use of force by riot police, officials said on Tuesday.
Police shot into the air and fired tear gas during clashes with hundreds of protesters in Port Saeed on Tuesday, the third day of violent protests in the port city.
Waves of demonstrations have been erupting in Port Saeed since January after the detention of dozens of people in connection with a football riot last year when 70 died. On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of a government building and hurled stones at police, who reacted by firing tear gas and warning shots in the air, the witness said.
The witness said he had seen at least three people who appeared to be unconscious.
Some 420 people have been wounded since the latest wave of protests started on Sunday, about 60 from shotgun wounds and live bullets, Syed Al Masry, head of Port Saeed’s ambulance services, said on Monday.
Mohammad Mursi met with his security chief and top military officers to discuss pulling out the police force and putting the military in charge to defuse the cycle of violence that has gripped the city, officials from the military and the president’s office said.
The latest round of rioting and violence in Port Saeed, which erupted on Sunday, has killed at least three civilians and three policemen and injured hundreds.
“The presidency is considering this option after relations between the security apparatus and the people of Port Saeed deteriorated,” said one of the officials. He added that the idea behind the proposal is that once the army takes control, it would presumably not get into confrontation with protesters.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media about the president’s deliberations.
The military sent reinforcement to Port Saeed late on Monday, after protesters torched a government building and police headquarters there. Witnesses said protesters lay down and slept on the asphalt to prevent fire engines from reaching the buildings on fire.
The officials said police have lost control over the city and the only way out was to hand it over to the military, which enjoys considerable support among Port Saeed residents.
Mursi’s deliberations come amid reports of tense relations between the president and the country’s Defence Minister Gen. Abdul Fattah Al Sissi following a rumour that the minister could be sacked because he resisted to bring the military under the sway of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood group.
Some opposition groups and figures want to see the military take over power after perceiving the country’s new Islamist leadership as incapable of ending Egypt’s deteriorating economy and increasing unrest.