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Despite ruling, Egypt holds off on ending curfew

Wednesday - 11/13/2013, 5:54am  ET

FILE - This Monday, Nov. 3, 2013 file image made from video provided by Egypt's Interior Ministry shows ousted President Mohammed Morsi,center, arriving for a trial hearing in Cairo, Egypt after four months in secret detention. Morsi had his first extensive meeting with lawyers, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, consulting in prison with a team from his Muslim Brotherhood over his ongoing trial on charges of inciting murder. So far, Morsi is refusing to accept any legal representation in the trial, insisting he remains president, and his son says he wants to take legal action against those prosecuting him after his ouster by the military. (AP Photo/Egyptian Interior Ministry, File)

MAGGIE MICHAEL

CAIRO (AP) -- A court declared that Egypt's 3-month-old state of emergency expired Tuesday, two days earlier than expected, but the military and security officials held off from implementing the ruling and lifting a nighttime curfew, amid worries that the measures' end will fuel protests by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

Morsi, meanwhile, held his first extensive meeting with lawyers in a prison near the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. He had been held in secret military detention with almost no contact with the outside world since he was ousted in a July 3 popularly backed coup, but he was moved to a regular prison last week after the first session of his trial on charges of inciting murder.

The lawyers, who hail from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, on Wednesday will relay a message from Morsi addressing the Egyptian people and "all parties," according to Morsi's son Osama, a lawyer who was among those who met him. The son told The Associated Press that his father is still refusing to allow any lawyer to represent him in the trial because he insists he remains president and does not recognize the tribunal.

The state of emergency and a nighttime curfew imposed along with it have been aimed at helping authorities tighten their security grip and control on near daily protests that frequently descended into violence by pro-Morsi supporters and his Muslim Brotherhood demanding his reinstatement and the reversal of what the call an illegal coup against democracy.

On Monday, Interior Minister Mahmoud Ibrahim, who heads the security forces, said the state of emergency would expire on Thursday and that security reinforcements would deploy in the streets at that time -- a sign of the worries over intensified protests.

The surprise ruling by the Cairo Administrative Court ordering the lifting Tuesday appeared to have caught the government off guard -- and authorities said they were not immediately implementing it until the court formally notifies them of the decision.

The confusion came because the state of emergency was initially announced for a month on Aug. 14. But the government renewed it for another two months on Sept. 12. The court said that means it ends on Nov. 12, not Nov. 14.

The Cabinet put out a statement saying it will abide by the ruling, but that it will wait for the details of the ruling to issue the verdict in writing. By Tuesday night, that had not occurred.

The military said that without official notification of the verdict, it was implementing the curfew as planned, at 1 a.m. on Wednesday. Military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said in a statement that the military so far had not been "notified officially of any court ruling."

The state news agency also cited an unidentified high ranking Interior Ministry official saying the ministry has not received the court's ruling. It said security forces have started deploying to secure the Egyptian street.

It was not clear how binding the ruling is. The court said its decision came in response to a lawsuit questioning legality of the state of emergency, and the court rejected the lawsuit saying that it has already expired. A senior judge in the court, Abdel-Maguid al-Mouqanan, told the state news agency that the ruling doesn't obligate the government to put an end to the state of emergency.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that the U.S. welcomed the formal lifting of the state of emergency, but also took note of the fact the government is considering other legislation on security.

"We urge the government to respect the rights of all Egyptians," the statement said. "This includes ensuring that Egyptians on all sides can peacefully exercise their right to freedom of assembly and expression as well as ensuring due process and that all civilians arrested are referred only to civilian courts."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed "the importance of respect for peaceful protest and freedom of assembly, and a commitment to dialogue and non-violence," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

"The secretary-general continues to underscore the need for political inclusion, respect for human rights, including of those in detention, and the rule of law as the basis for a peaceful, democratic transition in Egypt," Nesirky said, adding that "international human rights standards should form the basis of any new legislation."

The state of emergency gives security forces wide powers of arrest. It was imposed after police broke up two pro-Morsi protest camps in a heavy crackdown that left hundreds of protesters dead. The country has seen persistent violence since, including further bloody crackdowns on protests, retaliatory violence blamed on Islamists, and a wave of attacks on churches, security forces and the military by Islamic militants, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula.

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