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Port Said, Egypt - President Mohammed Morsi declared a state of emergency and a curfew in three major cities Sunday, as escalating violence in the streets threatened his government and Egypt's democracy.
By imposing a one-month state of emergency in Suez, Ismailia and Port Said, where the police have lost all control, Morsi's declaration chose to use one of the most despised weapons of former President Hosni Mubarak's autocracy. Under Mubarak-era laws left in effect by the country's new constitution, a state of emergency suspends the ordinary judicial process and most civil rights. It gives the president and the police extraordinary powers.
Morsi took the step after four days of clashes in Cairo and in cities around the country between police and protesters denouncing his government.
In Port Said, the trouble started over death sentences a court imposed on 21 local soccer fans for their role in a deadly riot. But after 30 people died in clashes Saturday - most of them shot by the police - the protesters turned their ire on Morsi as well the court. Police officers fired tear gas and live ammunition into attacking mobs, and hospital officials said that on Sunday at least seven more people died.
Morsi announced the emergency measures in a on state television Sunday evening. He said he was acting "to stop the bloodbath."
"There is no room for hesitation, so that everybody knows the institution of the state is capable of protecting the citizens," he said. "If I see that the homeland and its children are in danger, I will be forced to do more than that. For the sake of Egypt, I will."
Morsi's speech did nothing to stop the violence in the streets. In Cairo, fighting between protesters and the police and security forces escalated into the night along the banks of the Nile near Tahrir Square.
In Suez, a group calling itself the city's youth coalition said it would hold nightly protests against the curfew at the time it begins, 9 p.m. In Port Said, crowds began to gather just before the declaration was set to take effect, at midnight, for a new march in defiance.
"We will gather every night at 9 at Mariam's mosque," said Ahmed Mansour, a doctor. "We will march all night long until morning."
He added: "Morsi is an employee who works for us. He must do what suits us, and this needs to be made clear."