CAIRO (AP) — Riot police moved into Egypt’s main Islamic university on Saturday, claiming that striking students were disrupting end-of-term exams. They fired tear gas and battled demonstrators in a melee that left one protester dead and an administration building torched, officials and students said.
Police say they entered eastern Cairo’s Al-Azhar campus, the site of frequent clashes in recent weeks, and deployed around other Egyptian universities to prevent supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi from intimidating other students trying to take the tests.
Pro-Morsi activists have called for an exam boycott but deny government claims that they threatened anyone.
Students at al-Azhar, a stronghold of Morsi supporters, have been protesting for weeks against his ouster and a subsequent state crackdown, which this week saw his Muslim Brotherhood group declared a terrorist organization.
— Matthew Bell (@matthewjbell) December 28, 2013
University professors and security officials accused protesting students on Saturday of blocking entrances to classes and harassing students as they made their way into the campus.
A statement from the Interior Ministry, in charge of the police, said students stormed several buildings on campus to “terrorize students and faculty.” It said some fired shotguns into the air and smashed furniture.
The ministry statement said that the attack prompted the police to move in to disperse the crowd, leading the students to setting the Faculty of Commerce on fire.
Aya Fathy, a student spokeswoman, disputed the officials claim, saying the students were protesting peacefully. She said police moved in to break up protesters outside the faculty building, firing indiscriminately at them, and killing student Khaled el-Haddad.
She accused the police of setting the building on fire to blame the students. She said the police force was chasing students on campus.
The Interior Ministry didn’t mention el-Haddad’s death in its statement. But a security official confirmed he was killed and said 14 others were injured. He blamed the students for the violence, and said 68 students, including seven female students, were arrested. He said three policemen were injured. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Footage aired on local TVs and images posted on social media showed flames rising from the three-story building, and rooms inside badly torched. There were images of masked protesters on roofs of university buildings lobbing rocks at security. Exams were postponed at the Faculty of Commerce, but continued in other faculties, according to university officials speaking to local media.
The violence in Al-Azhar university set off protests on a university campus in the Nile Delta city of Zagzig, where students lobbed rocks at police forces.
Following the Brotherhood’s designation as terrorist, officials have warned that anyone joining the group’s protests will face stiff prison sentences.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press