Aug 16 2013
At least 37 people have died across Egypt as tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters clashed with vigilante residents in the fiercest street battles to engulf Cairo since the country's Arab Spring uprising.
Carrying pistols and assault rifles, residents battled with protesters taking part in what the Brotherhood called the "Day of Rage," ignited by anger at security forces for clearing two sit-in demonstrations on Wednesday in clashes that killed more than 600 people.
As military helicopters circled overhead, residents furious with the Brotherhood protesters pelted them with rocks and glass bottles. The two sides also fired on one another, sparking running street battles.
Unlike in past clashes between protesters and police, Friday's clashes took an even darker turn when residents and possibly police in civilian clothing engaged in the violence. Police in uniform were nowhere to be seen as residents fired at one another on a bridge that crosses over Zamalek in Cairo, an upmarket island neighbourhood where many foreigners and ambassadors live.
The Brotherhood-led marches in Cairo headed toward Ramses Square, near the country's main train station. The area is also near Tahrir Square, where the army put up barbed wires and tanks as a buffer between the protesters and a small anti-Brotherhood encampment in the square.
At least 12 people were killed in Ramses Square after protesters clashed with residents in the area, security officials said. Associated Press photographers saw many of the dead inside the nearby Al-Fath mosque, which had turned into a field hospital. Some appeared to have been shot in the head and chest during an attack on a police station.
Across the country, at least 29 civilians were killed in the clashes and eight police officers also were killed, security officials said. The violence erupted shortly after midday weekly prayers when tens of thousands of Brotherhood supporters answered the group's call to protest across Egypt in defiance of a military-imposed state of emergency following the country's bloodshed earlier this week.
Armed civilians manned impromptu checkpoints throughout the capital, banning Brotherhood marches from approaching and frisking anyone wanting to pass through. In one checkpoint, residents barred ambulances and cars carrying wounded from Ramses from passing to reach the hospital. The scenes highlighted how deep divisions in Egypt have become. At least eight police stations were attacked as well, officials said.
Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, has been in turmoil since Mr Morsi was removed from power by the military on July 3, following days of mass protests against him and his Brotherhood group. But his supporters have remained defiant, demanding the coup be overturned. The international community has urged both sides in Egypt to show restraint and end the turmoil engulfing the nation.
On Wednesday, riot police backed by armoured vehicles and bulldozers cleared two sprawling encampments of Morsi supporters, sparking clashes that killed at least 638 people. The Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement on Friday that the group is not backing down and "will continue to mobilise people to take to the streets without resorting to violence and without vandalism. The struggle to overthrow this illegitimate regime is an obligation, an Islamic, national, moral, and human obligation which we will not steer away from until justice and freedom prevail, and until repression is conquered," the statement said.