CAIRO – At least 10 people were killed in street battles and clashes with security forces as supporters of Egypt’s deposed Islamist president rallied in Cairo and elsewhere Friday in the first major show of defiance against what they termed an illegal military coup.
As night fell and military helicopters circled the capital, supporters and opponents of ousted President Mohamed Morsi clashed on the bridges and overpasses leading to Tahrir Square, the heart of the protests that forced Morsi’s removal Wednesday. Civilians attacked one another with chunks of asphalt in scenes reminiscent of the chaotic street fights that accompanied the popular revolt that toppled longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Health officials said 10 people were killed nationwide and 210 injured, but the toll was expected to rise.
Egypt’s military, which removed Morsi from power after widespread protests against his leadership, had pledged to allow peaceful protests and didn’t immediately intervene to stop the street battles. After more than two hours, a line of military armored personnel carriers, some with civilians riding aboard and waving, finally rolled across the October 6 Bridge, dispersing the fighters.
State television said that two people were killed in the clashes around Tahrir Square.
Four others died when security forces opened fire on pro-Morsi demonstrators outside the headquarters of the Republican Guard, where the ex-president was believed to be held under military arrest.
Video images captured at the scene showed a demonstrator in a gray T-shirt running up to a barbed-wire fence surrounding the facility and then collapsing in a heap after shots were fired.
State media, quoting security sources, said government forces had fired tear gas and blank cartridges but not live rounds.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters also stormed governors’ offices in two northern regions, Sinai and Fayoum, according to the state-run MENA news agency.
The Brotherhood’s spiritual leader made a dramatic appearance before tens of thousands of supporters in Nasr City, in eastern Cairo, denouncing “military rule” and chanting, “Our president is Mohamed Morsi.”
The movement’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, was believed to have been under military arrest but declared those reports “a lie.” It wasn’t immediately clear whether he had avoided arrest or whether he had been released from detention by the Egyptian military, which is eager to show the Brotherhood’s legions of supporters that it is not taking sides in the political crisis.
Meanwhile, the military-backed interim leader, Judge Adly Mahmoud Mansour, dissolved the upper house of the parliament in another attempt to curtail the Brotherhood’s political influence. The normally weak Shura Council, which was dominated by Brotherhood members, had become a legislative rubber stamp for Morsi to push through laws and expand his power after the lower house of parliament was dissolved by court order last year.
Egypt also closed its border crossing into the Palestinian territory of Gaza after gunmen in the restive Sinai Peninsula killed an Egyptian soldier and wounded two others in an attack in the border city of Rafah. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the attack was related to the coup against Morsi.
The African Union announced that it had suspended Egypt’s membership in the organization, describing Morsi’s overthrow as an unconstitutional change of government. The decision will remain in effect until Egypt restores a constitutional democracy, a statement said.
Human Rights Watch called for an inquiry on the deaths of dozens of Morsi’s supporters and opponents in political unrest since late June.
“The available information indicates that both supporters and opponents of Morsi – and possibly security forces as well – were responsible for needless loss of life,” said Joe Stork, the group’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.
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