Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Protesters, Egyptian forces clash

Demonstrators target presidential palace

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CAIRO, Egypt -- Egyptian security forces backed by water cannons fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday, while demonstrators clashed with riot police in cities across the country in marches against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The protests are part of a wave of opposition-led demonstrations during the past two weeks that have frequently devolved into street clashes. The violence has left more than 70 people dead and hundreds wounded and plunged the country into a fresh cycle of bloodshed and political turmoil.

Egypt's opposition is demanding Morsi form a new coalition government, open an investigation into the killings of protesters during the past months and give guarantees upcoming parliamentary elections will be fair and free. They also want him to form a commission to amend the country's newly adopted constitution, which was drafted by an Islamist-led panel and approved last December in a contentious referendum.

Some of the protesters go even further, demanding Morsi be removed from office. They also accuse the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamentalist group from which Morsi hails, of monopolizing power and failing to deal with the country's mounting woes.

Thousands took their demands to the streets in cities across the country on Friday, carrying Egyptian flags and pictures of slain protesters and chanting "down with the rule of the Guide," referring to Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, who critics allege is calling the shots for Morsi from behind the scenes.

At the presidential palace in Cairo, the scene of repeated violent clashes since late last year, protesters tried to remove the barbed wire at the front gate of the palace and fired flares at its perimeters. Riot police swiftly responded with water cannons and tear gas while protesters hurled stones.

Violence also broke out in Kafr el-Sheik, some 180 kilometres north of Cairo, where riot police clashed with protesters in front of the office of governor Saad el-Husseini, who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, protesters tore down a Brotherhood sign and burned it in front of the group's office while security forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrators in front of the governor's office.

Morsi and his allies accuse the opposition of trying to incite street violence to seize power after failing at the ballot box.

In a statement on Friday, Murad Ali, a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice party -- the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm -- warned the opposition it would be responsible for any acts of violence that occur during protests. He also called them "losers."

The clashes during the past two weeks have fuelled a sense Egypt is coming unglued, while also raising concerns the country could be hit by more -- and greater -- political violence.

Those worries sharpened after the assassination of a prominent anti-Islamist opposition leader in Tunisia on Wednesday, a killing that touched off a new wave of unrest there.

Tunisia was the birthplace of the region's so-called Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 that brought an end to the rule of several autocrats including Egypt's own Hosni Mubarak, clearing the way for Morsi's election last summer. Egyptians have warily watched the events unfolding in Tunis, which many here look to as a bellwether for their own country.

Much of the public anxiety in Egypt following the killing in Tunis stems from religious edicts, known as fatwas, recently issued by extremist clerics calling for the killing of Morsi's political opponents.

Egypt's leading democracy advocate and opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, sounded the alarm this week about the edicts.

The opposition says it will continue protests despite the fatwas, which the presidency and the government condemned as "terrorism." Morsi called the rhetoric "hate speech cloaked by religion."

Hamdeen Sabahi, a leader of the opposition National Salvation Front, said in a message posted on his Twitter account: "We will continue our peaceful struggle with the Egyptian people and revolutionary youth to continue our revolution."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2013 A22

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