Morsi supporters push back in Egypt

Dozens die in violent protests across nation after military ousts president

By

Published:

 
photoMohammed Badie, Muslim Brotherhood leader (photo by Amr Nabil, AP)
photoEgyptian military vehicles arrive at the site of clashes between the supporters and opponents of ousted President Mohammed Morsi on Friday in Cairo. Nighttime fighting raged with stone-throwing, firecrackers and gunfire.

(/)

photoSupporters and opponents of Egypt's ousted Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, clash on the 6 October bridge Friday Cairo, Egypt.

(/)

photoA military attack helicopter flies over a street near the presidential palace, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, July 5, 2013. The top leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has vowed to restore ousted President Mohammed Morsi to office, saying Egyptians will not accept "military rule" for another day. General Guide Mohammed Badie, a revered figure among the Brotherhood's followers, spoke Friday before a crowd of tens of thousands of Morsi supporters in Cairo. A military helicopter circled low overhead. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

(/)

CAIRO -- Enraged Islamists pushed back Friday against the toppling of President Mohammed Morsi, as tens of thousands of his supporters took to the streets vowing to win his reinstatement and clashed with their opponents in violence that killed 30 and wounded more than 200 nationwide.

In a battle on a bridge over the Nile River in Cairo, gunfire rang out and flames leaped from a burning car as the rival camps threw volleys of stones and fireworks at each other. Military armored vehicles raced across the bridge in a counterattack on Morsi's supporters.

The clashes accelerated after four supporters of the president were killed when troops opened fire on their rally -- and after a dramatic appearance by the supreme leader of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. He proclaimed that his followers would not give up street action until the president, swept from power Wednesday by the military, returns.

"God make Morsi victorious and bring him back to the palace," Mohammed Badie proclaimed before cheering supporters at a Cairo mosque in his first appearance since the overthrow. "We are his soldiers we defend him with our lives."

Badie said it was a matter of honor for the military to abide by its pledge of loyalty to the president, possibly in an attempt to pull troops from commanders. "Your leader is Morsi. … Return to the people of Egypt," he said. "Your bullets are not to be fired on your sons and your own people."

Hours later, Badie's deputy, Khairat el-Shater, considered the most powerful figure in the organization, was arrested in a Cairo apartment along with his brother on allegations of inciting violence, said Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif.

After the speech, a large crowd of Islamists surged across 6th October Bridge over the Nile toward Tahrir Square, where a giant crowd of Morsi's opponents had been massed all day. Battles broke out there and near the neighboring state TV building. Pro-Morsi youth shielded themselves from flying stones and fireworks with sheets of barricaded metal. A car burned at the top of an exit ramp amid the sounds of automatic weapons and shotguns.

"They are firing at us, sons of dogs! Where is the army?" one Morsi opponent shouted as another was brought to medics with his jeans soaked in blood from leg wounds. At least three people died at the bridge.

The fighting ended when at least seven armored personnel carriers sped across the bridge, chasing away the Morsi supporters. Young civilians jumped onto the roofs of the APCs, shouting insults at the Islamists and chanting, "The people and army are one hand."

Across the country, clashes erupted as Morsi supporters tried to storm local government buildings or military facilities, battling police or Morsi opponents. At least 30 people were killed throughout the day in Egypt, with 210 wounded, said Health Ministry official Khaled el-Khatib.

Islamists descended on an anti-Morsi rally, opening fire with guns in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria, where at least 12 people were killed, mostly Morsi opponents, emergency services official Amr Salama said. One man was stabbed and thrown from the roof of a building by Morsi supporters after he raised an Egyptian flag and shouted insults against the ousted president, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

Five policemen were killed by militants in shootings around the Sinai city of el-Arish, according to anonymous security officials.

The U.S. State Department condemned the violence and called on all Egyptian leaders to denounce the use of force and prevent further bloodshed among their supporters.

"The voices of all who are protesting peacefully must be heard -- including those who welcomed the events of earlier this week and those who supported President Morsi," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "The Egyptian people must come together to resolve their differences peacefully, without recourse to violence or the use of force."

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague also said he was "very concerned" by the reports of violence.

Col. Ahmed Ali, a spokesman for the armed forces, said the Muslim Brotherhood was trying to "pick a fight" with the army and "drag it to a clash in order to send a message to the West that what happened in the country is a coup and that the military is cracking down on the peaceful protesters."

That mirrored a statement from an umbrella group of Morsi opponents -- including the National Salvation Front and youth groups. The group urged the public to take to the streets immediately "to defend popular legitimacy" against what they called a "malicious plot" by the Brotherhood.

Islamists vowed to show by their numbers and the turmoil that the military had made a mistake by removing Morsi on Wednesday night. The action followed mass demonstrations for four days this week by the president's opponents in the biggest rallies the country has seen.

An interim president -- senior judge Adly Mansour -- was sworn in Thursday, and a Cabinet of technocrats is to be formed to run Egypt until new elections can be held, although officials have not said when that will be. Mansour dissolved the interim parliament -- the upper house of the legislature -- which was overwhelmingly dominated by Islamists and Morsi allies. He also named the head of General Intelligence, Rafaat Shehata, as his security adviser.

The Islamists had called rallies Friday to express their outrage at Morsi's ouster. The Brotherhood has said it will not work with the new military-backed leadership, and Morsi's supporters say the armed forces have wrecked Egypt's democracy by carrying out a coup against an elected president.

They accuse loyalists of former leader Hosni Mubarak, ousted in 2011, and liberal and secular opposition parties of turning to the army for help because they lost the election to Islamists. Many also see it as a conspiracy against Islam.

The turmoil began in the afternoon when army troops opened fire as hundreds of his supporters marched on the Republican Guard building in Cairo. That is where Morsi was staying when he was toppled before being taken into military custody at an undisclosed location.

The crowd approached a barbed wire barrier where troops were standing guard. When one person hung a sign of Morsi on the barrier, soldiers tore it down and told the crowd to stay back. A protester put up a second sign, and the soldiers opened fire, according to an AP photographer.

A protester fell dead with a gaping, bleeding wound in the back of his head, while others were bloodied and wounded.

Protesters threw stones at the troops, who responded with volleys of tear gas. Many of those injured had wounds typical of birdshot. The BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, was hit by birdshot in the head as he covered the clashes but said his injuries were superficial.

Badie made his appearance three hours later on a stage in front of tens of thousands of Islamists massed at Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque, not far from the Republican Guard building.

Morsi "is my president and your president and the president of all Egyptians," Badie proclaimed, thrusting his arms in the air, as a military helicopter circled low overhead.

The gray-haired Badie is a revered figure among the Brotherhood's followers, who swear an oath of absolute obedience to him -- to "hear and obey." The circumstances of his appearance were a mystery. Security officials had said Badie was taken into custody from a villa on the Mediterranean coast soon after Morsi's removal Wednesday night and flown to Cairo, part of a sweep that netted at least five other senior Brotherhood figures and put around 200 more on wanted lists.

Just before his speech, the Brotherhood's political party said on its webpage that Badie had "been released." On stage, however, Badie denied he had been arrested. There was no immediate explanation from security officials.

Fears have been running high over an Islamist backlash to Morsi's overthrow. Extremist Islamist groups that gained considerable freedom to operate during Morsi's year in office have already vowed violence in retaliation.