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Egypt protests prompt US travel warning

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The U.S. State Department has issued a new travel warning for Egypt, urging Americans not to travel to the northeast African nation in the wake of violent protests between opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

The travel warning, issued Friday, says U.S. citizens should “defer non-essential travel to Egypt at this time due to the continuing possibility of political and social unrest.” It also noted that the State Department has authorized the departure of some U.S. government personnel and their families from the country.

Friday, according to the BBC, an American college students was killed in the historic city of Alexandria while taking photos with his cell phone of protestors torching the local office of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political organization that supports Morsi. The student was identified as Andrew Pochter, 21, of Chevy Chase, Md., who was scheduled to graduate in 2015 from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

“Pochter was an intern at AMIDEAST, an American non-profit organization engaged in international education, training and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa,” the college website noted.

The travel warning added that an American also was attacked by a person with a knife outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo last month.

“Additionally, Westerners and U.S. citizens have occasionally been caught in the middle of clashes and demonstrations,” the state department observed. “Of specific concern is a rise in gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the specific targets of sexual assault.”

Speaking on the opposite end of the continent in South Africa, President Barack Obama said the U.S. was concerned about the situation in Egypt.

“We support peaceful protests and peaceful methods of bringing about change in Egypt,” the president said.

The protests in Egypt have turned increasingly violent in recent days in advance of a mass rally planned for Sunday by anti-Morsi protestors to mark the first anniversary of the president’s inauguration. Morsi was swept to power by a wave of protests that toppled the government of former President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years as a virtual dictator.

Rather than supporting a more democratic Egyptian political process sought by many Arab Spring protestors, Morsi instead sought to increase presidential power by issuing an edict last November that denied the country’s judiciary the ability to rule on the legality of his decisions. In the wake of popular protests against this order, Morsi rescinded it in early December.

The Muslim Brotherhood seeks to make the Koran the basis of law in Egypt. Earlier this month, according to the BBC, Morsi “put Islamists in charge of 13 of Egypt’s 27 governorships.”

The travel warning noted that “the security situation in most tourist centers, including Luxor, Aswan, and Red Sea resorts such as Sharm el Sheikh, continues to be calm.” Travel websites continue to advertise trips to Egypt. For example, Expedia.com Saturday was offering a round-trip Lufthansa flight to Cairo from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport with an eight-night hotel stay (July 7-14) at the five-star Concorde El Salam for $1,998 per person.

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