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Egypt extends emergency police powers

CAIRO — Egypt’s interim president extended a nationwide state of emergency for two more months on Thursday, citing continued security concerns, as a senior Egyptian official warned of more terrorist attacks following a failed assassination attempt against the interior minister as well as suicide bombings in the Sinai Peninsula.

The nearly month-old state of emergency, which is due to expire within days, preserves greater powers for security forces amid a crackdown on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and violence by Islamist militants. It was first declared in mid-August after authorities cleared two protest encampments held by Morsi supporters, unleashing violence that killed nearly 1,000 in subsequent days.

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A nighttime curfew has also been in effect in much of the country. The interim government will decide separately on whether to continue the curfew. Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has said the curfew, now lasting for seven hours most nights, would probably be eased.

The government Thursday announced new measures aimed at easing an economic crunch, in a sign it aims to show it is tackling the nation’s problems even amid the exceptional security conditions.

The measures included relief from school expenditures for low-income families and a reduction in public transportation costs. They also included an injection of $ 3.1 billion for infrastructure projects and jobs, which the government says it hopes will increase economic growth from the current 2 percent to 3.5 percent.

The spending will largely be financed from money pledged by Gulf countries to Egypt after Morsi’s July 3 ouster, the government said.

Egypt’s continued political instability has pummeled the country’s economy, decimating tourism and direct foreign investment. In recent rallies, Morsi supporters have increasingly sought to find public backing by evoking the hard economic conditions and authorities’ failure to improve people’s daily lives.

The extension of the state of emergency had been expected. The decree cited continued security concerns. Under the interim constitution, the state of emergency can only be imposed for three months, then must face a public referendum.

Egypt was under emergency law for most of the 30-year rule of Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. It was lifted only after Mubarak’s ouster.

The extension came days after the Egyptian military launched a major offensive in northern region of Sinai, with troops backed by helicopter gunships raiding suspected hideouts of Al Qaeda-inspired militants in a dozen villages. The three-day offensive killed 29 militants, demolished houses, and led to the seizure of weapons, including 10 anti-aircraft missiles, according to military officials.

In what appeared to be a backlash, a pair of suicide bombers hit military targets in Sinai, killing nine soldiers. Last week, a car bombing in Cairo targeted the convoy of Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police. Ibrahim escaped unharmed.

A senior Egyptian official said authorities expect more assassination attempts, adding there are an estimated 10,000 militants operating in Sinai.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Authorities have been cracking down on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists since his ouster, arresting at least 2,000 in the past month. Senior leaders of the group have been charged or are under investigation on a string of allegations, particularly incitement to violence. At the same time, extremists’ attacks on police stations, government offices, and churches have grown more brazen.

Talk of reconciliation has largely faded.

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