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Top Egypt prosecutor to keep job as standoff with president ends

CAIRO -- Egypt's top prosecutor reached an agreement with the country's president to keep his job on Saturday despite earlier attempts to remove him, ending a standoff that had prompted accusations of interference in judicial affairs.

President Mohammed Morsi had ordered Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud to step down last Thursday in an apparent bid to appease public anger over the acquittals of ex-regime officials accused of orchestrating violence against protesters last year.

Morsi had broad public support for removing Mahmoud, who was appointed under ousted president Hosni Mubarak. But the move created a backlash from angry judges, who saw the decision as infringement on the judiciary.

But the move triggered an outcry from judges who said Morsi had exceeded his powers. Critics attacked the new president for a step they described as an attack on the independence of the judiciary.

In an elaborate resolution of the crisis, the Supreme Judicial Council presented Morsi with a petition on Saturday demanding Mahmoud stay in his job. The presidency in turn said Morsi would halt moves to make him an ambassador.

Al-Ahram, the state-run newspaper, declared it a “victory for the judiciary over the presidency”.

Vice President Mahmoud Mekki, who also serves as Morsi's justice minister, told journalists that Morsi had appointed Mahmoud as an ambassador with his consent, denying the president had ever sacked him. He said the move was legally sound.

But perceptions that Morsi had tried to fire Mahmoud spread widely, prompting commentators to ask where Morsi gets his legal advise. “Since when has the president of the republic had the capacity to sack the prosecutor general?” Suleiman Gouda, writing in the widely read al-Masry al-Youm daily.

After meeting Morsi and his advisers, Mahmoud told The Associated Press that “a misunderstanding” had been resolved.

Earlier Saturday, Mahmoud defied the order by entering his office in a downtown Cairo courthouse.

Mekki said the procedures to reappoint Mahmoud have been stopped after the appeal by the Council. He said the decision was initially to avoid popular anger following the Wednesday acquittal of Mubarak loyalists over their alleged role in a turning point of the 2011 uprising, known as the “Battle of the Camel,” when camels ridden Mubarak supporters charged into an opposition crowd.

Mekki dismissed accusations that Morsi was interfering in the judiciary. The move, he said, was to “protect the post” against criticism. In defense of the decision, Mekki said the presidency had announced the decision after initially understanding that Mahmoud had agreed to step down.

“There was confusion. The acceptance was not complete, was not clear,” Mekki told reporters.

Mahmoud returned to his office after the meeting with Morsi. At a press conference later, hundreds of judges came out to congratulate him for retaining the job. Mahmoud said he had been threatened, a charge the presidency denies.

An independent daily's online headline read: “The judges win in the battle of the prosecutor general.”

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