Egypt army chief warns of ‘collapse of state’

International

KAREEM FAHIM, DAVID D KIRKPATRICK & MAYY EL SHEIKH

Reacting to the growing chaos in several Egyptian cities, including Cairo, the army chief of staff warned on Tuesday of "collapse of the state" if political forces in the country did not reconcile, reflecting growing impatience with the crisis from Egypt's most powerful institution.

The worst of the fighting, which has left at least 50 dead, has occurred in Port Said on the Suez Canal. Egypt President Mohammed Morsi has imposed a monthlong state of emergency in the city and two others in the Suez Canal zone, calling on the army to regain control of security.

Violence in Cairo, the capital, has also begun to escalate. During clashes between riot police and protesters along the Nile Corniche early on Tuesday, the fighting spilled into one of the city's best-known luxury hotels, leaving the lobby in ruins.

In comments published on an official army Facebook page, chief of staff Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi said the army would protect the "vital" Suez Canal and warned of attempts to target state institutions, calling it a "serious matter that harms Egyptian national security and the future of Egypt".

In Port Said Monday, street battles reached a bloody new peak with a death toll over three days of at least 50, with at least five more protesters killed by bullet wounds, hospital officials said.

The state of emergency imposed by President Morsi virtually eliminates due process protections against abuse by the police.

Angry crowds burned tires and hurled rocks at the police. And the police, with little training and less credibility, hunkered down behind barrages of tear gas, birdshot and occasional bullets.

The sense that the state was unravelling may have been strongest here in Port Said, where demonstrators have proclaimed their city an independent nation. But in recent days, the unrest has risen in towns across the country and in Cairo as well.

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