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Morsi supporters, military battle

At least 30 dead, hundreds injured in protests against 'illegal coup'

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CAIRO -- Tens of thousands of supporters of Egypt's deposed Islamist president rallied across Cairo on Friday, hurling rocks and fireworks and clashing with security forces in the first major show of defiance against what they have termed an illegal military coup.

As night fell over Cairo and military helicopters circled the capital, supporters and opponents of ousted president Mohammed Morsi battled on the bridges and overpasses leading to Tahrir Square, the heart of the protests that preceded Morsi's removal Wednesday. Civilians attacked one another with chunks of asphalt, used corrugated-metal sheets as shields and set fire to a car in scenes reminiscent of the chaotic street fights that accompanied the revolt that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.

At least 30 people were killed nationwide and more than 200 were injured, according to news reports, but the toll was likely to rise. State television said two people were killed in the clashes around Tahrir Square.

Egypt's military, which removed Morsi from power after widespread protests against what his critics deemed an autocratic approach to leadership, had pledged to allow peaceful protests and didn't immediately intervene to stop the street battles, despite having troops posted nearby.

After nearly three hours, as the Morsi supporters were beginning to fall back, a line of armoured personnel carriers rolled across the October 6 Bridge, ending the fighting.

The violence marked a sharp escalation in tension since the military took charge this week, suspending the constitution, issuing arrest warrants for some 300 Muslim Brotherhood figures and installing a senior jurist as interim president. Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who won a narrow majority in Egypt's first democratic election last year, has called on supporters to defend his "legitimacy" but has urged non-violence.

The army has said it won't re-impose military rule -- as it did after Mubarak's ouster -- but it hasn't set a date for parliamentary or constitutional elections.

Friday's violence raised the prospect the Egyptian military might intervene more forcefully to restore order or it might crack down more heavily on the Muslim Brotherhood if its leaders are believed to have incited the attacks.

In east Cairo, four people were killed when security forces opened fire on pro-Morsi demonstrators outside the headquarters of the Republican Guard, where the deposed president is believed to be under military arrest. Video images captured at the scene showed a demonstrator in a gray T-shirt running up to a barbed-wire fence surrounding the Republican Guard facility and then collapsing in a heap as shots were fired.

State media, quoting security sources, said government forces had fired tear gas and blank cartridges but not live rounds.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters also stormed governors' offices in two northern regions, Sinai and Fayoum, according to the state-run MENA news agency.

The Brotherhood's spiritual leader made a dramatic appearance Friday before tens of thousands of supporters denouncing "military rule" and chanting, "Our president is Mohamed Morsi."

Supreme guide Mohamed Badie, an avuncular figure in spectacles who delivered an impassioned address, was thought to have been under military arrest, but he declared those reports "a lie."

It wasn't immediately clear whether he hadn't been arrested or whether he had been released by the military, which is eager to show the Brotherhood's legions of supporters its coup was based on Morsi's inability to overcome divisions in society rather than because it held antipathy toward the Brotherhood.

Badie spoke to a crowd in Nasr City, part of east Cairo, in what was the Islamist camp's largest gathering since Morsi's removal. Over the previous week, anti-Morsi demonstrators had overwhelmed his supporters with their numbers and fervor, and Muslim Brotherhood members seemed stunned by the coup and the announcement of arrest warrants against them.

But on Friday, the Islamist camp appeared re-energized. Badie's speech featured the Brotherhood's favoured nationalist-religious rhetoric, reminding Egyptians they stood with them through Mubarak's three decades of authoritarian rule.

"Give Egypt back to its people," Badie said as the crowd cheered. "Give its presidency back to Mohamed Morsi and bring an end to military rule."

Saad Mohamed, an administrator at Al Azhar University, a major Islamic institution in Cairo, said unless the army called for a referendum with Morsi on the ballot, "Egypt might turn into another Syria where Islamists fight against the army."

Meanwhile, the military-backed interim leader, Judge Adly Mahmoud Mansour, dissolved the upper house of the parliament in another attempt to curtail the Brotherhood's political influence. The normally weak Shura Council, which was dominated by Brotherhood members, had become a legislative rubber stamp for Morsi to push through laws and expand his power after the lower house of parliament was dissolved by court order last year.

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 0

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