Dozens reported killed as clashes break out on Islamists' 'Day of Rage' in Egypt
CAIRO - Dozens of deaths were reported as clashes broke out during mass demonstrations by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt Friday.
Morsi's Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement had called for a “Day of Rage” in the wake of a military crackdown that killed more than 600 people.
The Anti-Coup Coalition, another leading group in the protests against the military takeover, said some of the 28 marches toward Cairo's central Ramses Square had come under attack near the square. It said 25 people had been killed so far. It set up a makeshift field hospital at the nearby Al Fath Mosque.
A statement issued by the Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party also said four people were killed and 11 injured by gunfire in the city of Ismailia.
And an emergency service official, Abdel Wahab Dura, told Reuters that eight people were killed during clashes between protesters and security forces in the Mediterranean town of Damietta.
Violence was also reported in Egypt's second city Alexandria and in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, Reuters said.
In Cairo, clashes broke out on the May 15 Bridge and the sound of gunfire could be heard coming from an area near the front of a large column of pro-Morsi supporters.
A man in civilian clothes with a gun was seen occasionally firing into the air as he walked with protesters on the bridge.
Later, crowds of people appeared to be trapped on the bridge by occasional bursts of gunfire on one side and tear gas on the other. Some ran back and forth between the two ends.
Other people were seen jumping from the nearby October 6 Bridge to the ground below.
Heavy machine-gun fire could also be heard ringing out periodically in other parts of central Cairo. It was unclear who was firing.
Protester Mohammad Samir, an English teacher, said Morsi was “the legal president of Egypt.”
“Freedom is the only thing we want. [Military chief Gen. Abdel-Fatah] el-Sissi killed democracy in Egypt, so we are here to get our democracy again,” he said.
“We will not get back to our homes … again before getting our freedom.”
Samir, from Shariqa, named his three-month-old son Nidal, which means “resistance,” because of the protests.
Egypt's military has stepped up security around key sites after at least 638 people were killed and nearly 4,000 injured on Wednesday when security forces cleared sit-in protests by supporters of Morsi, who was deposed by the military last month.
Armored personnel carriers and tanks could be seen at several places in central Cairo and the military announced it would deploy troops to guard "vital installations."
The Muslim Brotherhood called for a nationwide march of millions Friday to demonstrate anger over the deaths.
A statement on the Muslim Brotherhood’s English-language website said that “we call on the great Egyptian people to gather in all revolutionary squares on the Friday of Rage.”
“The struggle to overthrow this illegitimate regime is an obligation, an Islamic, national, moral, and human obligation which we will not steer away from until justice and freedom prevail, and until repression is conquered,” it said.
It added that “our revolution is peaceful, and … violence is not our approach.”
President Barack Obama on Thursday strongly condemned Egypt’s interim government and canceled a planned joint military operation in protest over the violence. That move sparked criticism from sides in the bloody conflict.
A statement issued by the Egyptian presidency, which was read on state TV, hit back, saying it feared Obama’s remarks were “not based on facts and encourage violence and the flourishing of armed groups.”
It added that his comments could “complicate the country’s road map and transition to democracy.”
Meanwhile, Amr Darrag, a former government minister in Morsi’s administration, condemned the “shocking and irresponsible rhetoric from the State Department” in an article published Friday on the Brotherhood’s website and in The New York Times.
He said a U.S. call to its demonstrators to renounce violence had “given the junta cover to perpetrate heinous crimes in the name of ‘confronting’ violence.”
“The [Egyptian] military and so-called liberal elites have shown time and again that they believe they are entitled to a veto over Egyptians’ choices,” Darrag added. “But the general [el-Sissi] who betrayed his oath and held the only elected president in the history of Egypt in extralegal detention cannot be trusted to let an opposition movement survive, let alone thrive.”
“This is a battle between those who envision a democratic, pluralistic Egypt in which the individual has dignity and power changes hands at the ballot box and those who support a militarized state in which government is imposed on the people by force.”
The interim government, which insists it is working on a plan to restore democracy, has authorized the use of deadly force against protesters targeting police and state institutions.
Wednesday was the deadliest day by far since the 2011 popular uprising that overthrew autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak and plunged the country into more than two years of instability.
Violence spread on Thursday, with government buildings set ablaze, policemen gunned down and scores of Christian churches attacked.
An angry crowd stormed the governor's office in Giza, the city next to Cairo that is home to the pyramids. State TV blamed Morsi's supporters for the arson and broadcast footage showing firefighters evacuating employees from the larger building of Giza's government offices.
In Cairo, weeping relatives filled the mosque-turned-morgue near the gutted pro-Morsi protest camp in Nasr City, the AP reported.
A woman cradled the head of a slain man in her lap, fanning it with a paper fan. Nearby, an anguished man shouted, "God take revenge on you el-Sissi!"
Slumped over the body of his brother, Ihab el-Sayyed said the 24-year-old was getting ready for his wedding next week. "Last time I heard his voice was an hour or two before I heard of his death," he said, choking back tears.