Three weeks before its presidential election, Egypt on Sunday extended an overnight curfew around the Defense Ministry in a bid to forestall a repeat of Friday’s deadly violence.

One soldier died and almost 400 people were wounded in Friday’s clashes, the second time in a week that protests over the army’s handling of the country’s troubled transition have turned violent.

The military reimposed the curfew in the Abbasiya district around the Defense Ministry for the third straight day, the state-run MENA news agency reported.

Running from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., it is an hour shorter than on the previous two nights.

Many protesters who gathered near the ministry were extremist Salafis, furious that a candidate they supported for president was disqualified from the race. Non-Islamists and others attended the rally, accusing the army of seeking to manipulate or delay the scheduled election.

The military has dismissed the allegations, promising to honor a timetable transferring power by July 1 or earlier – in the unlikely event of an outright winner in the first round of voting this month.

On Sunday, Egyptian media reported that 14 women and 15 journalists of the 300 people detained Friday had been released after a military prosecutor accepted a legal appeal.

In separate developments, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt returned to Cairo late Saturday, Egyptian airport officials said, almost a week after he was recalled in a rare diplomatic row between the longtime allies.

Ambassador Ahmed Abdulaziz Kattan was withdrawn in response to street protests in Cairo against the arrest of an Egyptian lawyer in Saudi Arabia.

Previously strong ties between Riyadh and Cairo were strained by last year’s uprising in Egypt that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak, a close Saudi ally. The rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has riled governments in the Persian Gulf who fear the spread of its influence.

Egypt sent a large parliamentary delegation to Riyadh this week to help rebuild ties with the Gulf kingdom, which has promised $2.7 billion to support the battered Egyptian economy.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia confirmed its plans to send aid.

“We’re taking procedures to execute the aid budget,” Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf told reporters after a meeting of Gulf Arab finance ministers in Riyadh.

The Egyptian website Bikya Masr reported Sunday that the country’s foreign reserves had seen their first increase since late 2010. Foreign reserves edged up to $15.21b. by the end of April, up from $15.12b by the end of March, according to Egyptian Central Bank statistics.

“Foreign participation in Egypt’s stock market remains small,” an unnamed Egyptian economist told the site, “but a partial recovery in tourism and a tendency for Egyptians to keep bank deposits in local currency are positive signs.”

The presidential election – scheduled for May 23 to 24 – will choose a successor to Mubarak.

The two front-runners are Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief, and Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, an Islamist who has won the backing of a broad range of voters ranging from non-Islamists to Salafis.

Polls conducted by the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper show Moussa with a slim lead, but the veteran official is tainted by his association with the Mubarak regime and charges of political opportunism. The Muslim Brotherhood is also running a candidate.

Writing for Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, columnist Karim Mohy said it’s time for selfdeclared liberals to question their support for Abol Fotouh.

“The endorsement of the ultra conservative Salafis has no doubt left liberal supporters anxiously wondering just what was said during the rounds of meetings between Abol Fotouh and Salafi leaders,” Mohy wrote. “The perception that the most important decisions affecting Egypt are currently being made in back room deals has created an aura of suspicion around the country’s political actors, and Abol Fotouh’s recent shift in position on the system of governance and the endorsement of the Salafis for his campaign have raised many red flags.”

“What we can be certain of, is that both Abol Fotouh and the Salafis are both serious and committed to implementing Shari’a law, despite talk by the former about tolerance and diversity,” he wrote.

“The onus is on Abol Fotouh to act with transparency and to clarify his political positions. If he wants to retain the trust of his diverse voter base, he must remain principled and consistent, and leave the double-talk and flip-flopping to Amr Moussa.”

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