Egypt says to toughen emergency laws

Warning issued on state TV says police will fire on anyone who attacks Interior Ministry, police stations; voter registration to start by end of month.

Cairo embassy violence 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Cairo embassy violence 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
DUBAI - Egypt's military rulers outlined on Sunday new areas where they would use long-standing emergency laws, citing activities such as blocking roads, publishing false information and weapons possession, the state news agency said.
Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy also warned on Egyptian state TV that police would open fire on anyone who attacked the Interior Ministry or police stations who was considered to be a threat to police lives.
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The toughening of the emergency laws comes after protesters attacked the Israeli embassy and a police station last week, leading to clashes with riot police in which three people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.
The state news agency said a decree would be issued to start voter registration at the end of this month, before parliamentary elections, following calls for swift transfer of power to civilian rule. It did not give a date for the vote.
The agency said the law, in place since ousted leader Hosni Mubarak came to power in 1981, would be used to combat "violations of national and public security in the country, and funding that, possession of weapons and ammunition, trading in them, and bringing, exporting or trading in drugs".
It would also be applied against "thuggery, aggression against the freedom to work, sabotaging factories and holding up transport, blocking roads and deliberately publishing false news, statements or rumors".
Egypt has seen months of protests and strikes since Mubarak stepped down, hurting an already fragile economy. Police continue to maintain a thin presence on the streets which Egyptians say has led to an increase in crime.
In his comments on television, the interior minister said: "We won't allow anyone to attack the Interior Ministry or any police station ... According to the law, we will resist if there is any danger to lives, we have to to use weapons."
"If there was a danger to a building or those present inside the building, we will confront with bullets," Essawy said.
The government said on Saturday it would reactivate the emergency laws, which were renewed for six months in April. They allow authorities wide powers of detention and transfer to military and other special courts.
The laws played a major role in social and political repression of Mubarak's rule and removing them has been a core demand of protesters since the uprising that ousted him from power in February.
Hafez Abu Saeda, chairman of the Egyptian Human Rights Organization, said the announcement raised the possibility that the ruling military council would extend the laws into the period when parliamentary elections are due to be held.
The government is due to hold polls sometime this year, probably in November, but no firm dates have been announced.
"The emergency law gives the authorities power to do a lot of things and transfer people to trials," he said. "But now they will focus on these areas and they will be tougher."