Egypt’s interior minister summoned by judge over Port Said violence

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Egypt’s Minister of Interior Mohammed Ibrahim was summoned by a judge over the violence which claimed the lives of dozens in Port Said since January, a local news website reported Sunday.

Judge Abdel Aziz Shaheen, an investigating judge, called Ibrahim to court for testimony on March 17. Shaheen also wants to hear the testimony of the country’s deputy security chief for service affairs on March 18 and the Port Said east and west prison chiefs on March 19, Egypt Independent reported.

In Port Said, the Suez Canal city where the soccer stadium riot erupted in February 2012, bloody clashes in the past couple of days between protestors and police escalated.

The judge decided “to check records on the arming of police and number of troops in Port Said during the incidents, as well as their places of deployment and commanders’ names for each location they were deployed,” the news website said.

Ibrahim is facing an unprecedented strike by thousands of police officers across the country, who are calling for his resignation. However, he defended the country’s security forces in a statement on Sunday.

The interior minister stated that he would not allow vigilantes or militias to take over police duties, while admitting his police force has been strained by daily protests, clashes and criticism.

“From the minister to the youngest recruit in the force, we will not accept to have militias in Egypt,” the Associated Press quoted Ibrahim. “That will be only when we are totally dead, finished” he added.

Ibrahim was speaking a day after protesters raged in Cairo as protesters were furious over the acquittal of seven of the nine police officers, who were being tried over soccer violence that left 74 people dead last year. Some 21 civilians have received death sentences as a result.

No police abuse

His declaration followed a statement by a hard-line Islamist group that its members would take up policing duties in the southern province of Assiut because of strikes by local security forces. Lawmakers have raised the possibility of legalizing private security companies, granting them the right to arrest and detain.

“There are groups of policemen on strike. I understand them. They are protesting the pressure they are under, the attacks from the media,” the minister said. “They work in hard conditions and exert everything they can and are not met with appreciation or thanks.”

He dismissed charges that the Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood is dictating his ministry's policies.

“There is no interference by anyone in the work of the ministry. Rest assured,” he told reporters.

Egypt’s police and internal security forces are widely hated seen as a legacy of the rule of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, when they were notorious for abuses, torture and crackdowns on political opponents, including the Brotherhood.

Protesters torched a police club and the soccer federation headquarters Saturday. Hundreds also battled police along the Nile river boulevard in an area packed with hotels and diplomatic missions. Two people were killed. The clashes along the river continued Sunday.

There were also limited protests in Port Said. They stopped this weekend after police evacuated their headquarters and the military took over.

The interior minister has accused “infiltrators” walking among protesters of targeting police with live ammunition and firebombs, to draw the force into using violence.

He also pleaded for an end to “rumors” of police abuse, saying his forces had never fired a single shot at protesters since the start of the 2011 uprising.

Instead said media reporters were instigating the aggravation with his ministry and spreading lies.

“We are the ones being hit with stones. We are the ones being hit with live bullets... this is putting too much psychological pressure on officers,” AFP quoted him as saying.