Egypt: Top prosecutor urged to step down

Associated Press
Tear gas fills downtown as protesters clash with security forces in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, April 6, 2013. Police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters outside the chief prosecutor's office Saturday in central Cairo who were pushing on the building's doors demanding he resign.(AP Photo/Mostafa Elshemy)
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CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's highest judicial body on Sunday urged the top prosecutor to step down less than five months after the president appointed him, reflecting persistent turmoil in the government's upper reaches that has often been accompanied by violence.

The surprise statement came on a day when Egypt's railway services came to a halt because of a strike by train drivers and conductors, and the funeral of four Christians killed in sectarian clashes turned into a rally against President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.

A statement by the Supreme Judiciary Council carried by the official MENA news agency urged the prosecutor, Talaat Abdullah, "to express a wish" to return to his previous job as a judge for the sake of the unity of the judiciary.

Abdullah's appointment in December set off protests by many judges and fellow prosecutors, who called it illegal. It set off days of protests outside his office in downtown Cairo. The protests forced him to tender his resignation, but then he withdrew it and stayed in office.

A court ruling last week annulled the presidential decree appointing Abdullah, but he has continued to carry out his duties. There was no word immediately available from Abdullah on his plans.

Removing Abdullah has been a key demand of the mostly liberal and secular opposition. Sunday's call by the council of the judiciary appeared aimed at offering him an honorable exit, a step toward ending a long running crisis within the judiciary over the appointment.

Over the past two weeks Abdullah has ordered summons against several media celebrities critical of Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president. They included popular TV satirist Bassem Youssef, who was accused of insulting Morsi and Islam. The satirist was released on bail.

Youssef's questioning last week, along with arrest warrants issued earlier by Abdullah's office against five rights activists, brought criticism from the United States.

Train drivers and conductors went on strike Sunday to demand better pay in yet another episode in what appears to be an endless series of work stoppages over the past two years.

Transport Minister Hatem Abdel-Lateef approved a 10 percent hike in the bonuses routinely given to all railway workers but train drivers and conductors rejected it as too little and went on strike. They are members of a national union grouping all railway workers.

Trains stopped running from three key cities — Cairo, the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria and Tanta in the Nile Delta — bringing to a halt most services around the nation. Thousands of angry passengers crowded train stations. Video footage aired by several TV networks showed deserted platforms and motionless, empty trains.

The labor unrest that followed the 2011 toppling of autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak has deepened Egypt's economic woes as well as the political schism pitting President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist allies against the mostly secular and liberal opposition.

Also Sunday, hundreds of angry Egyptian Christians gathered at the main Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo for the funeral of four Christians killed in weekend clashes with Muslims.

A fifth person, a Muslim, died in the Saturday violence in the town of Khosoos north of Cairo.

Denouncing Morsi, the mourners on Sunday chanted "Leave!" and "This is our country, we will not leave."

Women wearing mourning black joined the chants, while clergymen sat silently before the service began.

Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's estimated 90 million people. They have long complained of discrimination.

The presidency and Muslim Brotherhood condemned the violence.

The strike and the Christian uproar followed a night of clashes on Saturday in downtown Cairo between police and opposition supporters outside the city's main courthouse. Police used tear gas to disperse a rock-throwing crowd of some 3,000 protesters who also threw firebombs at the building, tried to storm it and blocked nearby roads.

Prosecutor Abdullah's office is in the compound.

The protests were part of demonstrations across much of the country to mark the fifth anniversary of the birth of the April 6th Youth Movement. The group, which played a key role in the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, backed Morsi in election run-offs last June but has since turned against him.

April 6, like other opposition groups, accuses the Egyptian leader of acting like his autocratic predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, and of not having an inclusive political process.

The Muslim Brotherhood party says Morsi should be challenged at the ballot box, not in street protests.

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