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Egypt secures liberals' homes after calls for their death

Feb. 7, 2013 6:34 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 9, 2013 12:54 P.M.)
CAIRO (Reuters) -- Egyptian police deployed security at the homes of prominent liberal opponents of the government on Thursday after a hardline cleric called for their deaths and a secular politician was gunned down in Tunisia.

The death on Wednesday of Chokri Belaid, an outspoken critic of Tunisia's Islamist-led government, was condemned by the opposition in Egypt, where two years of political turmoil has exposed divisions between Islamists and their secular opponents.

The same day, Egyptian liberal politician Muhammad ElBaradei - former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency - sounded the alarm on a hardline cleric's call for his own death.

The cleric, Mahmoud Shaaban, appeared on a religious television channel and said leaders of Egypt's main opposition coalition would get a death sentence under sharia (Islamic law).

He specifically mentioned ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahy.

The statements were denounced by Islamists and leftists across Egypt's political spectrum, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has dominated democratic elections since mass protests ousted President Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

"The Muslim Brotherhood condemns calls allowing bloodshed and inciting killing, whatever their source," it said in a statement on its website, quoting spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan.

Abboud al-Zumar, an Islamist who served three decades in prison for his role in the 1981 assassination of Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat, also rejected the statements.

"There's never any place for a person to deal with their political opponents with weapons," he told the news website Aswat Masriya in an interview.

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said on his Facebook page the cabinet was looking into legal steps it could take against "all those who issue or spread edicts or fatwas inciting violence."

Street violence

President Muhammad Mursi, a Brotherhood member, has struggled to restore security and mend the ailing economy in the Arab world's most populous country, with 80 million people, since he was elected in June.

At least 59 people died in more than a week of street protests starting late last month over what demonstrators saw as Mursi's attempts to monopolize power, as well as a broader sense of political and economic malaise.

Activists have called for more demonstrations on Friday. Ahead of those protests, Egyptian police stationed forces in front of opposition politicians' homes, security sources said.

"We've asked the Central Security leadership to appoint a fixed guard in front of the homes of Muhammad ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahy," one security source said.

A witness said around 15 police and a security car had been deployed on the street where ElBaradei's home is. ElBaradei's press office said he did not request the protection.

While Islamists enjoy substantial popular support, many Egyptians have grown frustrated at what they see as attempts to hijack a revolution they started to topple a dictator and improve their quality of life.

The Nour Party, which professes a strict Salafist form of Islam, called cleric Shaaban's statements "irresponsible" and said he should be investigated.

The al-Watan party, which split from Nour, and the leftist Popular Current party also criticized Shabaan's utterance.
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