Deadly clashes as Egypt Islamists take to streets

CAIRO, Aug 16, 2013 (AFP)

Thousands of Islamists protested Friday across Egypt, sparking violence that killed at least 12 people and turned parts ofCairo into battlefields after police authorised the use of live ammunition.

The skirmishes came two days after 578 people were killed in Egypt as police cleared two protest camps in Cairo set up by loyalists demanding the reinstatement of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, in the country’s bloodiest day in decades.

The crackdown drew strong condemnation from the international community. Germany said Friday it would review its relations with Cairo, and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called on the bloc to adopt “appropriate measures” ahead of an emergency meeting on the situation on Monday.

An Islamist coalition led by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement had called for rallies dubbed a “Friday of anger” in response to the crackdown on their protest camps.

And the violence erupted after protesters emerged from mosques following Friday prayers, with gunshots ringing out in Cairo and smoke billowing from a fire that demonstrators started under the October 6 bridge.

In the capital, a man lept off a bridge near a police station to escape shooting as police armoured vehicles advanced on the protesters, witnesses said.

The health ministry said at least 12 people were killed across the country, while the Islamist group that organised the marches said 25 were killed just in one location in Cairo.

State media said a policeman was killed in an armed attack on a Cairo checkpoint, after the army deployed around the city, closing off roads with armoured personnel carriers.

Deadly violence also erupted elsewhere, with the health ministry saying four people were killed in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya and another eight in northern Damietta.

The ministry gave no toll for Cairo, where residents of some areas formed their own roadblocks, checking identity papers and searching cars.

Security sources said five protesters loyal to Morsi were shot dead in clashes with security forces in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia.

Medics said two people were killed in the North Sinai town of Al-Arish, including a policeman and one protester in the canal city of Port Said.

The interior ministry, which on Thursday authorised police to use live fire if government buildings came under attack, accused the Brotherhood of attacking police stations, saying it foiled several attempts to storm the buildings.

Marches were also reported in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, in Beni Sueif and Fayyum, south of Cairo, and in the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada.

Wednesday’s bloody crackdown on the pro-Morsi protest camps has polarised Egypt as never before in its recent history, splintering the army-installed government and drawing forceful international condemnations.

The international community expressed grave concern, with the president of the UN Security Council pleading for “maximum restraint” after an emergency meeting on Wednesday’s violence.

Egypt had defended the crackdown and announced on Friday it would cancel nabal exercises with Turkey to protest condemnation from Ankara.

Turkey, which backs Morsi, recalled its ambassador to Cairo over the violence, prompting a tit-for-tat move by Egypt.

Sporadic violence continued throughout the country in the form of attacks on security personnel, with 13 killed in the Sinai Peninsula in 24 hours.

On Thursday, Tamarod, the protest group that organised opposition to Morsi’s rule, also urged Egyptians to take to the streets.

It said they should rally on Friday “to reject domestic terrorism and foreign interference”.

France said President Francois Hollande would discuss the crisis with British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government issued a fresh condemnation of the violence.

On Thursday, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Egypt, calling for an end to the violence and “national reconciliation”.

US President Barack Obama said Washington was cancelling a joint US-Egyptian military exercise.

“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” he said.

But despite scrapping the Bright Star exercise, which has been scheduled every two years since 1981, he stopped short of suspending Washington’s annual $1.3 billion in aid.

The State Department warned US citizens not to travel to Egypt and called on those already there to leave.

Egypt’s interim presidency responded defiantly to Obama, warning “statements not based on facts may encourage violent armed groups”.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay called for an investigation into Wednesday’s bloodshed, saying the death toll suggested “an excessive, even extreme, use of force against demonstrators”.

Saudi King Abdullah pledged his country’s support for Egypt’s fight on “terrorism,” saying it was the military-backed government’s “legitimate right”.

Across the country, meanwhile, activists reported new attacks on churches, allegedly by Morsi loyalists.

The Anti-Coup Alliance of Morsi supporters condemned the attacks but also accused some Christians of supporting his ouster.

“Although some Coptic leaders supported or even participated in the coup, no such attacks can be justifiable,” it said.

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