Egyptian troops kill 6 pro-Morsi protesters

Army says soldiers were only firing tear gas and blanks; additional clashes reported in El-Arish, Suez and Ismaila

A man lies dead after being shot by Egyptian troops in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, July 5 (photo credit: AP/Khalil Hamra)
A man lies dead after being shot by Egyptian troops in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, July 5 (photo credit: AP/Khalil Hamra)

CAiro — An Egyptian Health Ministry official said six people have been killed in clashes around the country involving opponents and backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as well as security forces.

Egyptian troops killed four supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, who were marching on the Republican Guard facility in Cairo on Friday. Several more were reportedly injured by the bullets, increasing fears of Islamist violence. Two protesters were killed elsewhere, with 180 wounded across the country.

An Associated Press photographer at the scene Friday said the Republic Guard forces opened fire when protesters approached a barbed wire barrier around the facility, where Morsi had been held during his ouster before being taken into military custody in an unknown location, and hung a picture of the former president on it.

The BBC reported that the army fired tear gas at a crowd that gathered around the bodies. Protesters reportedly pelted the soldiers with stones.

BBC reporter Jeremy Bowen was mildly injured after being hit in the head with birdshot.

According to Reuters, an Egyptian army spokesman has denied the shooting, claiming soldiers were using only blank rounds and tear gas.

Clashes between pro-Morsi protesters and the military were also reported in El-Arish,Suez and Ismaila. According to Reuters, protesters tried to enter government buildings in all three towns.

The shooting threatens to escalate Egypt’s crisis, with supporters of Morsi — largely Islamists — rejecting the army’s ousting of the country’s first freely elected president Wednesday night and installation of a new civilian administration. The protester casualties are likely to further fuel calls by some in the Islamist movement for violent retaliation.

Tens of thousands chanted “down with military rule” in protests around the country Friday, venting their fury at the military for ousting Morsi and vowing to restore him to office.

A crowd of Morsi supporters filled much of a broad boulevard outside a Cairo mosque, vowing to remain in place until the Islamist leader who was Egypt’s first freely elected president is returned to his position. The protesters railed against what they called the return of the regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, ousted in early 2011.

“The old regime has come back … worse than before,” said Ismail Abdel-Mohsen, an 18-year old student among the crowds outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque. He dismissed the new interim head of state sworn in a day earlier, senior judge Adly Mansour, as “the military puppet.”

Supporters of ousted Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi chant slogans during a protest near the University of Cairo, Giza, Egypt, Friday, July 5 (photo credit: AP/Hassan Ammar)
Supporters of ousted Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi chant slogans during a protest near the University of Cairo, Giza, Egypt, Friday, July 5 (photo credit: AP/Hassan Ammar)

The military forced Morsi out Wednesday after millions of Egyptians turned out in four days of protests demanding his removal and saying he had squandered his electoral mandate by putting power in the hands of his own Muslim Brotherhood and other, harder-line Islamists. In the 48 hours since, the military has moved against the Brotherhood’s senior leadership, putting Morsi under detention and arresting the group’s supreme leader and a string of other figures.

The Brotherhood called for Friday’s protests, which took place at several sites around the capital and in other cities. Brotherhood officials underlined strongly to their followers that their rallies should be peaceful.

But there are serious fears that more extremist groups who gain considerable influence during Morsi’s year in office will lash out with a campaign of violence.

In the early hours Friday, masked assailants launched a coordinated attack with rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns on the airport in el-Arish, the provincial capital of northern Sinai, as well as a security forces camp in Rafah on the border with Gaza and five other military and police posts. At least one soldier was killed in nearly four hours of clashes that ensued.

Egyptian army soldiers stand guard on the border with Egypt in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, July 5 (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)
Egyptian army soldiers stand guard on the border with Egypt in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, July 5 (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)

Islamic militants hold a powerful sway in the lawless and chaotic northern Sinai. They are heavily armed with weapons smuggled from Libya and have links with militants in the neighboring Gaza Strip, run by Hamas. After the attack, Egypt indefinitely closed its border crossing into Gaza, sending 200 Palestinians back into the territory, said Gen. Sami Metwali, director of Rafah passage.

Morsi supporters say the military has wrecked Egypt’s democracy by carrying out a coup against an elected leader. They accuse Mubarak loyalists and liberal and secular opposition parties of turning to the army for help because they lost at the polls to Islamists. But many supporters have equally seen it as a conspiracy against Islam.

Many at Friday’s protests held copies of the Quran in the air, and much of the crowd had the long beards of ultraconservative men or encompassing black robes and veils worn by women, leaving only the eyes visible. One protester shouted that the sheik of Al-Azhar — Egypt’s top Muslim cleric who backed the military’s move — was “an agent of the Christians” — reflecting a sentiment that the Christian minority was behind Morsi’s ouster.

The protesters set up “self-defense” teams, with men staffing checkpoints touting sticks and home-made body shields. There was no significant presence of military forces near the protests.

In southern Egypt, Islamists attacked the main church in the city of Qena on Friday. In the town of Dabaiya near the city of Luxor, a mob torched houses of Christians, sending dozens of Christians seeking shelter in a police station. Clashes broke out Friday in at least two cities in the Nile Delta between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators.

Extremist groups who gained considerable influence during Morsi’s year in office have threatened to lash out with a campaign of violence.

The night before, the military spokesman issued a statement urging all protesters to remain peaceful. In a message to Morsi’s opponents, Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali warned against “gloating,” vengeance or attacks on Brotherhood offices, saying there must not be an “endless cycle of revenge.”

The military has a “strong will to ensure national reconciliation, constructive justice and tolerance,” he wrote in an official Facebook posting. He said the army and security forces will not take “any exceptional or arbitrary measures” against any political group.

But the Brotherhood has been furious over the arrests of its top leaders, as well as the closure of its TV station Misr25, its newspaper, and three other Islamist television stations. It called to move a return to Egypt’s ” dark, repressive, dictatorial and corrupt ages.”

“We refuse to participate in any activities with the usurping authorities,” the Brotherhood said in a statement, read Thursday by senior cleric Abdel-Rahman el-Barr to the crowd outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque.

Morsi has been under detention in an unknown location since Wednesday night, and at least a dozen of his top aides and advisers have been under what is described as “house arrest,” though their locations are also unknown.

Authorities have also issued a wanted list for more than 200 Brotherhood members and leaders of other Islamist groups. Among them is Khairat el-Shater, another deputy of the general guide who is widely considered the most powerful figure in the Brotherhood.

The arrest of Badie was a dramatic step, since even Mubarak and his predecessors had been reluctant to move against the group’s top leader. The ranks of Brotherhood members across the country swear a strict oath of unquestioning allegiance to the general guide, vowing to “hear and obey.” It has been decades since a Brotherhood general guide was put in a prison.

Badie and el-Shater were widely believed by the opposition to be the real power in Egypt during Morsi’s term.

The National Salvation Front, the top opposition political group during Morsi’s presidency and a key member of the coalition that worked with the military in his removal, criticized the moves, saying, “We totally reject excluding any party, particularly political Islamic groups.”

The Front has proposed one of its top leaders, Mohammed ElBaradei, to become prime minister of the interim Cabinet, a post that will hold strong powers since Mansour’s presidency post is considered symbolic. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate who once headed the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, is considered Egypt’s top reform advocate.

“Reconciliation is the name of the game, including the Muslim Brotherhood. We need to be inclusive,” Munir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, a leading member of the group, told The Associated Press. “The detentions are a mistake.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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