Unprecedented security for World Economic Forum under cloud of police violence in Cairo | VailDaily.com

Unprecedented security for World Economic Forum under cloud of police violence in Cairo

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – Police and plainclothes agents flooded this resort city at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula Friday as Egypt set out to stage a major international gathering less than a month after terrorist bombings killed 21 tourists just a few miles to the north.Terrorism was not the only cloud over the World Economic Forum: more than a thousand representatives of 46 countries were gathering a day after police beat pro-reform protesters in the Cairo streets. More than 300 demonstrators were arrested, in the second such melee in the capital in two weeks.With global attention on Egypt, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif was forced to acknowledge Thursday’s widely reported melee.”Egypt is always targeted. Whenever we start to make economic progress, we find those who try to trip us up and pull us backward. But we won’t wait for anybody,” Nazif told reporters Friday.In a sign of how tense security officials have become, Central Security officers and agents arrested three Associated Press journalists with badges permitting them to cover the forum after one photographed workers raising flags near the convention center where the forum is to open with a speech by President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday afternoon.The three were detained for two hours and released.By hosting meetings that will focus on Mideast economic development and political reform, Egypt “shows that we are here and we can host a conference of this size in Sharm El-Sheik,” Nazif said.The prime minister predicted that the world “will recognize that Egypt has become a pivotal country, and it is able to lead the whole region – God willing – to more reforms and development.”But Nazif’s comments came after a fresh round of international criticism for Egypt’s handling of pro-democracy activists.On Thursday, the White House urged Egypt to set free the runner-up in last year’s presidential elections after a court turned down his appeal to overturn a conviction and five-year prison sentence on forgery. Ayman Nour has claimed that the charges were trumped up to eliminate him from politics. The White House also called for Egypt to release the detained protesters.That message may be delivered in person to the United States’ closest Arab ally by Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and members of Congress who are attending the conference.U.S.-Egyptian relations are strained after the Mubarak regime failed to carry through on promised political reforms and violently blocked opposition voters from polling places in legislative elections late last year. At least 14 people died.Mubarak canceled upcoming local council elections two months later and last month extended emergency laws in place since he took power 25 years ago after the assassination of Anwar Sadat.The government also initiated disciplinary actions against two whistle-blowing members of Egypt’s highest court after they officially exposed the government’s misconduct in the parliamentary vote. The case prompted the two recent demonstrations in which protesters were beaten by police.At least two key meetings are expected on the fringe of the conference, with Mubarak planning to meet Saturday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. On Sunday Abbas also was slated to meet the Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.It would be the first high-level meeting of Israeli and Palestinian officials since the surprise victory of the militant Hamas organization in January elections and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s victory in March voting.Sharm was hit by a triple bombing in July that killed at least 64 people. That attack was launched on Egypt’s key tourism sector less than a year after terrorists set off bombs at Taba and Ras al-Shitan, killing at least 34 tourists vacationing near the border with Israel.Last month, terrorists exploded three bombs in the small scuba-diving resort of Dahab, not far north of Sharm, killing at least 21.All of the attacks were claimed by a group calling itself Monotheism and Holy War, which is believed to be linked to or inspired by al-Qaida. Egyptian authorities have been at pains to claim the attacks were the work of local Bedouin tribesmen, apparently fearing the specter of al-Qaida would damage the country’s vital tourist industry, which brought in $6.4 billion last year alone.Vail, Colorado

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