Egypt protects liberals' homes after death threat

CAIRO Fri Feb 8, 2013 1:03am IST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian police deployed security at the homes of prominent liberal opponents of the government on Thursday after a hardline cleric called for their deaths and a secular politician was gunned down in Tunisia.

The killing on Wednesday of Chokri Belaid, an outspoken critic of Tunisia's Islamist-led government, sent tremors through Egypt.

In both countries where "Arab Spring" uprisings swept away veteran authoritarian rulers, two years of political turmoil have exposed divisions between Islamists and their secular opponents.

On the same day, Egyptian liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, sounded the alarm over a hardline cleric's call for his death.

The cleric, Mahmoud Shaaban, appeared on a religious television channel and said leaders of Egypt's main opposition coalition would get a death sentence under sharia (Islamic law).

He specifically mentioned ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahy.

President Mohamed Mursi, a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood which has dominated democratic elections since mass protests ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, condemned such comments as tantamount to "terrorism".

But he renewed accusations that the liberal opposition was inciting unrest.

"It is strange that some (in Egypt) advocate political violence and incite it while others, who claim to speak in the name of religion, allow 'killing' on the basis of political differences, which is terrorism itself," a statement from Mursi's office said.

"The presidency affirms its complete rejection of hate speech that falsely uses religion, and of which religion is innocent, and calls on national forces, religious institutions and leading thinkers to stand in a united front to confront this unacceptable language of incitement."

Other Islamists and leftists across the political spectrum condemned Shaaban's statement, as did the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The Muslim Brotherhood condemns calls allowing bloodshed and inciting killing, whatever their source," it said in a statement on its website, quoting spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan.

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said on his Facebook page the cabinet was looking into legal steps it could take against "all those who issue or spread edicts or fatwas inciting violence".

STREET VIOLENCE

Mursi has struggled to restore security and mend the ailing economy in the Arab world's most populous country since he was elected in June.

At least 59 people died in more than a week of street protests starting late last month over what demonstrators regarded as Mursi's attempts to monopolise power, as well as a broader sense of political and economic malaise.

Activists have called for more demonstrations on Friday. Ahead of those protests, Egyptian police stationed forces in front of opposition politicians' homes, security sources said.

"We've asked the Central Security leadership to appoint a fixed guard in front of the homes of Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahy," one security source said.

A witness said around 15 police and a security car had been deployed on the street where ElBaradei lives. ElBaradei's press office said he did not request the protection.

While Islamists enjoy substantial popular support, many Egyptians have grown frustrated at what they view as attempts to hijack a revolution they started to topple a dictator and improve their quality of life.

(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy, Shaimaa Fayed and Tom Perry; Editing by Paul Taylor and Robert Woodward)

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