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Over 50 Morsi backers killed as clashes erupt in Cairo

CAIRO, Egypt -- Egypt was rocked Monday by the deadliest day since its Islamist president was toppled by the military, with more than 50 of his supporters killed by security forces as the country's top Muslim cleric raised the spectre of civil war.

The military found itself on the defensive after the bloodshed, but the interim president drove ahead with the army's political plan. He issued a swift timetable for the process of amending the Islamist-backed constitution and set parliamentary and presidential elections for early 2014.

An Egyptian man grieves for his brother,  who was killed during a battle in Cairo Monday.


An Egyptian man grieves for his brother, who was killed during a battle in Cairo Monday.

The killings further entrenched the battle lines between supporters and opponents of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, who was removed by the military July 3 after a year in office following mass demonstrations by millions of Egyptians.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood called for an uprising, accusing troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed armed Islamists for provoking its forces.

The shootings began during a protest by about 1,000 Islamists outside the Republican Guard headquarters where Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected leader, was detained last week. Demonstrators and members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood said troops descended on them and opened fire unprovoked as they finished dawn prayers.

"I was in the last row praying. They were firing from the left and right," said Nashat Mohammed, who had come from southern Egypt to join the sit-in and was wounded in the knee. "We said, 'Stop, we're your brothers.' They shot at us from every direction."

After a battle lasting about three hours, at least 51 protesters were killed and 435 wounded, most from live ammunition and birdshot, emergency services chief Mohammed Sultan told the state news agency.

At a televised news conference, army Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said police and troops came under "heavy gunfire" around 4 a.m. and attackers on rooftops opened fire with guns and Molotov cocktails. A soldier and two policemen were killed and 42 in the security forces were wounded, eight critically, he said. Ali did not directly explain how the protester deaths occurred.

A collection of video of the clashes provided by the military to Egyptian TV showed protesters on rooftops lobbing projectiles at troops below, including firebombs and toilet seats. It also showed some armed protesters firing at close range at the troops, but it did not show what the military did. It was also not clear at what time in the fighting the videos were shot. It included aerial views of the clashes.

Several witnesses from outside the protest said the gunfire started when troops appeared to move on the camp.

The Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, called on Egyptians to rise up against the army, which it accused of turning Egypt into "a new Syria."

The sole Islamist faction that backed Morsi's removal, the ultraconservative Al-Nour Party, suspended its participation in talks on forming a new leadership for the country.


-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2013 B8

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