Street battles flare in Cairo
August 17, 2013 10:39 AM
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CAIRO — Supporters of Egypt’s ousted Islamist president are vowing to defy a state of emergency with new protests today, the day after marches in Cairo devolved into the fiercest street battles the capital has seen in more than two years.

More than 80 people were killed Friday in what the Muslim Brotherhood called a “Day of Rage,” ignited by anger at security forces for clearing two sit-in camps earlier in the week, leaving hundreds dead.

Witnesses say that Egyptian security forces stormed a Cairo mosque today after firing tear gas at hundreds of Islamist supporters of the country’s ousted president barricaded inside.

Local journalist Shaimaa Awad told The Associated Press today that security forces rounded up protesters inside al-Fatah mosque, located in Cairo’s central Ramses Square.

The sound of gunfire could be heard in the background.

Egypt’s official news agency, MENA, reported that gunmen opened fire on security forces from the mosque’s minaret. Local television stations broadcast live footage of soldiers firing assault rifles at the minaret.

Hundreds of people had barricaded themselves overnight inside the al-Fatah mosque, shoving furniture against the doors to stop police from breaking their way in.

Police had been negotiating with those inside, promising them safe passage if they left.

The mosque at Ramses Square, scene of some of the heaviest clashes Friday, had been used as a field hospital and morgue earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Egyptian Cabinet says authorities are considering disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood group.

Spokesman Sherif Shawki said today that Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi assigned the Ministry of Social Solidarity to study the legal possibilities of dissolving the group. He didn’t elaborate.

Also today, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said that a son of its spiritual leader was killed during the fierce clashes in downtown Cairo. The group’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice party, said on its official website that Mohammed Badie’s son Ammar was killed Friday.

The death toll in Friday’s clashes rose today to 173 people killed nationwide, said Shereef Shawki, a spokesman for Egypt’s Cabinet. He said 1,330 people were wounded in the fighting.

Across the city Friday, police and armed vigilantes at neighborhood checkpoints battled Muslim Brotherhood-led protesters, with the sight of residents firing at one another marking a dark turn in the conflict.

Military helicopters hovered over downtown as residents furious with the Brotherhood protests pelted marchers with rocks and glass bottles. The two sides also fired on one another, sparking running street battles throughout the capital’s residential neighborhoods.

The violence capped off a week that saw more than 700 people killed across the country. That toll surpasses the combined death toll from 2ᄑ years of violent protests since the ouster of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak to the July 3 coup that toppled Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.

Unlike in past clashes between protesters and police, Friday’s violence introduced a combustible new mix, with residents and police in civilian clothing battling the marchers.

Few police in uniform were seen as neighborhood watch groups and pro-Morsi protesters fired at one another for hours on a bridge that crosses over Cairo’s Zamalek district, an upscale island neighborhood where many foreigners and diplomats live.

Friday’s violence erupted shortly after midday prayers when tens of thousands of Brotherhood supporters answered the group’s call to protest across Egypt in defiance of a military-imposed state of emergency following the bloodshed earlier this week.

Armed civilians manned impromptu checkpoints throughout the capital, banning Brotherhood marches from approaching and frisking anyone wanting to pass through. At one, residents barred ambulances and cars carrying wounded from Ramses Square from reaching a hospital.

Several of the protesters said they were ready to die, writing their names and relatives’ phone numbers on one another’s chests and undershirts in case they were killed.

Tawfik Dessouki, a Brotherhood supporter, said he was fighting for “democracy” and against the military’s ouster of Morsi.

“I am here for the blood of the people who died. We didn’t have a revolution to go back to a police and military state again and to be killed by the state,” he said during a march headed toward Ramses Square.

At least 12 people were killed near the square as some in the crowd tried to attack a police station, security officials said.

The Facebook page of the army spokesman, Col. Mohammed Ali, accused gunmen of firing from the mosque at nearby buildings. The upper floors of a commercial building towering over Ramses Square caught fire during the mayhem, with flames engulfing it for hours.

Similar battles played out in cities across the country, where people brandishing weapons attacked police and residents fired at one another.

Gunmen targeted police checkpoints and at least 10 police stations came under attack. Egypt’s security forces were rocked by the country’s 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak and have not fully recovered since.

In the Red Sea city of Suez, 14 people were killed in clashes between protesters and security forces. In Egypt’s second-largest city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean, 10 people were killed during clashes between the two rival camps. Security officials said violence was also fierce in the province of Fayoum, an oasis region southwest of Cairo, where seven people were killed during an attempt to storm the main security building there, a security official said. Two policemen died in the attack.

In the province of Minya south of Cairo, protesters attacked two Christian churches, security officials said. At churches across the country, residents formed human chains to try to protect them from further assaults, and a civilian was killed while trying to protect a church in Sohag, south of Cairo, authorities said.

Many of Morsi’s supporters have criticized Egypt’s Christian minority for largely supporting the military’s decision to remove him from office, and dozens of churches have been attacked this week. The coup that ousted Morsi followed days of protests by millions of Egyptians demanding the Islamist leader step down.

Mourad Ali, a spokesman for the Brotherhood, denounced the attacks on churches, saying they ran counter to Islamic principles and were an attempt to ignite sectarian divisions.

“Our stance is clear. ... We strongly condemn any attack — even verbal — on churches and on Coptic property. This holds true whether or not Coptic leaders joined in or supported the July 3 coup. ... This does not justify any attack on them,” he said in an online statement.

More than 800 people were arrested in Friday’s clashes, including local Brotherhood leaders in the provinces. The group’s top figures are facing charges of inciting violence and some have been imprisoned for weeks. Morsi has been held at an undisclosed location and is facing a criminal investigation.

Associated Press writers Mariam Rizk and Maggie Michael contributed to this report.

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