Three shot dead in Cairo, Islamist protests spread
CAIRO (Reuters) - At least three protesters were shot dead on Friday outside the Republican Guard barracks in Cairo where deposed President Mohamed Mursi is being held, security sources said, as angry Islamist supporters confronted troops across Egypt.
As darkness fell, thousands of pro- and anti-Mursi demonstrators gathered in parts of Cairo. Soldiers and special forces backed by armoured personnel carriers attempted to keep small groups from the two factions apart.
Tens of thousands of people marched across the country in what Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement called a "Friday of Rage" to protest against his ouster and an interim government set up to prepare for new elections.
Egypt's first freely elected president was toppled on Wednesday in what his supporters call a military coup, the latest twist in a tumultuous two years since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in "Arab Spring" uprisings that swept the region in 2011.
Mursi supporters in Cairo were hit by shotgun pellets after a crowd of several hundred people marched towards the barracks where Mursi is being held. Reuters photographers saw at least one dead young man and several severely wounded being carried from the scene.
The army denied blame for the shootings. An army spokesman said troops did not open fire on the demonstrators and soldiers used blank rounds and teargas to control the crowd. It was unclear whether security forces units other than army troops were also present.
Later, tens of thousands of cheering Islamists gathered near a mosque in a Cairo suburb where they were addressed by Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, free to address them despite reports on Thursday that he had been arrested.
In a fiery speech, he vowed to "complete the revolution", and repeatedly referred to Mursi as the president.
"There cannot be a concession on our President Mohamed Mursi, otherwise it is our lives," he shouted as a military helicopter hovered low overhead.
"To the great Egyptian army, we are the ones who protect your back, and you protect us from our enemies. Your bullets are not fired on the sons of your nation, you are more honorable than that."
ALARM IN WASHINGTON
Continued violence will alarm the United States. Washington has so far avoided referring to the army's removal of Mursi as a "coup", a word that under U.S. law would require a halt to its $1.5 billion in annual aid.
The top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, spoke to the chief of staff of Egypt's armed forces on Friday, although no details were provided.
Mursi's opponents also say it was not a coup but an intervention to impose the "people's will".
The African Union voted to suspend Egypt from all its activities in reaction to Mursi's overthrow "until the restoration of constitutional order.
Several dozen people have been killed in the last month of unrest, during which huge rallies in Cairo and other cities called for Mursi's resignation amid anger over economic stagnation and perceptions of a Brotherhood power grab.
His overthrow on Wednesday was greeted with wild scenes of celebration involving millions of people, but infuriated his supporters who fear a return to the suppression of Islamists they endured under generations of military rule.
Mohamed Ezzat, 35, who said he was a Brotherhood member, said protesters would stage a sit-in outside the Republican Guard headquarters and other locations throughout Cairo, to protest the "coup" against Mursi.
"The most important thing with the army is that they stay out of politics. We had a legitimate, elected president, and the army came and removed him," he said.
Hundreds of Islamists marched to the national broadcasting centre on the banks of the Nile in central Cairo, bringing them close to Tahrir Square where a crowd of thousands of anti-Mursi demonstrators had gathered.
The army has said it intends to keep the rival factions apart, and soldiers and armoured personnel carriers were deployed in the area, apparently for that purpose.
Clashes were repeated across the country.
Thousands of Islamists took to the streets of Alexandria and Assiut to join protests, and in Damanhour, capital of the Beheira province in the Nile Delta, 21 people were wounded in violence between supporters and opponents of Mursi.
Ehab el-Ghoneimy, manager of the Damanhour general hospital, said three people had been wounded with live bullets, others were wounded with birdshot, rocks or had been hit with rods.
In the Suez city of Ismailia, soldiers fired into the air as Mursi supporters tried to break into the governor's office. The Islamists retreated and there were no casualties, security sources said.
State television and radio also reported clashes in the Nile Delta towns of Gharbeya and Beheira, in Qena south of Cairo and the rural province of Fayoum.
In the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel, two police officers were shot dead on Friday by unknown gunmen in El Arish, medical sources said. It was not clear if the attack was linked to the protests.
Overnight, gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades at army checkpoints guarding an airport there and rocketed a police station near the border with the Palestinian territory of Gaza, killing one soldier and wounding two.
An army spokesman said the army in the Sinai Peninsula was "on alert". He denied an earlier report by state-owned media Al-Ahram that a state of emergency had been imposed in the South Sinai and Suez provinces, which had caused a spike in oil prices from international markets on edge over the unrest.
Egypt's interim head of state, Adli Mansour, appointed on Thursday, began work to prepare the country for new elections, dissolving parliament by decree. State television also said he appointed Mohamed Ahmed Farid as head of intelligence.
Foreign diplomacy was being handled by the head of Egypt's armed forces on Friday, as General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who announced Mursi's overthrow on Wednesday, called Saudi King Abdullah to reassure him Egypt was stable.
(Reporting by Asma Alsharif, Mike Collett-White, Alexander Dziadosz, Seham El-Oraby, Shaimaa Fayed, Maggie Fick, Alastair Macdonald, Shadia Nasralla, Tom Perry, Yasmine Saleh, Paul Taylor, and Patrick Werr in Cairo, Abdelrahman Youssef in Alexandria and Yursi Mohamed in Ismailia; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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