Morsi set to re-impose martial law in Egypt

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    Struggling to subdue continuing street protests, the government of President Mohammed Morsi has approved legislation re-imposing martial law by calling on the armed forces to keep order and authorizing soldiers to arrest civilians, Egypt's state media reported on Saturday.

    Morsi has not yet issued the order, the flagship state newspaper Al Ahramk reported. But even if merely a threat, the preparation of the measure suggested an escalation in the political battle between Egypt's new Islamist leaders and their secular opponents over an Islamist-backed draft constitution. The standoff has already threatened to derail the culmination of Egypt's promised transition to a constitutional democracy nearly two years after the revolt against the former leader Hosni Mubarak.

    "President Morsi will soon issue a decision for the participation of the armed forces in the duties of maintaining security and protection of vital state institutions until the constitution is approved and legislative elections are finished," Al Ahram reported, suggesting that martial law would last until at least February. Parliamentary elections are expected to be held two months after the constitutional referendum, scheduled for next Saturday.

    A short time later, a military spokesman read a statement over state television echoing the report of the president's order and calling for a dialogue to resolve the crisis.

    The spokesman said, "Dialogue is the best and sole way to reach consensus that achieves the interests of the nation and citizens. Anything other than that puts us in a dark tunnel with drastic consequences."

    Al Ahram reported that the defence minister would determine the scope of the military's role. Military officers would be authorized to act as police and "to use force to the extent necessary to perform their duty," the newspaper stated.

    A need to rely on the military to secure a referendum to approve the new charter could undermine Morsi's efforts to present the documents as an expression of national consensus that might resolve the crisis.

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