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Egypt Activists Say Arrests Spike Ahead of General Strike

FILE - Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zied, known by his nickname Shawkan, center, appears before a judge for the first time after spending more than 600 days in prison in Cairo for covering deadly police crackdown on protests, May 14, 2015.

Egyptian security forces have arrested dozens of activists ahead of a general strike planned for Thursday, activists and security sources say, part of what the activists describe as an unrelenting crackdown on dissent.

The April 6 movement, which helped ignite the 2011 uprising that overthrew autocrat Hosni Mubarak, has asked Egyptians to stay home on June 11 in protest at poor economic conditions and what they say is the suppression of free speech in the country.

The pro-democracy group, since banned by an Egyptian court, told Reuters this week that dozens of people who had called for the strike have been detained in recent days.

A crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi has been expanded to include liberal and secular activists. Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected civilian leader was overthrown by the army in July, 2013 after mass protests against his one-year-old rule.

Amr Aly, April 6's official spokesman, said seven members of his group had been arrested, three of whom initially went missing before resurfacing in police stations.

"There are many others arrested who are also calling for a strike but are not members of April 6," Aly said.

Mohamed Nabil, a member of April 6's political office, said the measures showed the government was anxious about dissent.

"We are not calling for a protest, just for people to stay home, and they still crack down on us. This shows how weak and scared this regime is," Nabil said.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Egyptian authorities deny allegations of widespread human rights abuses in the most populous Arab state and describe the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups as terrorists.

Security and judicial sources confirmed to Reuters that seven April 6 members had been detained, and one was released on bail. They face charges of incitement to strike.

"They are inciting people to strike and the public prosecution ordered their arrests," said an official in the national security service.

Another security source told Reuters there had been 55 people arrested over the past 10 days in connection with the calls for a strike on June 11.

Despite criticisms of curbs on freedoms, many Egyptians support President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the former army chief who toppled President Morsi, for delivering a degree of stability after years of turmoil following the 2011 uprising.

Activist Mona Seif said security services had been detaining university students and other activists since April.

"There are lots of people who aren't calling for a strike that are missing. June 11 is part of what is going on but this is bigger than just that," she said.