UPDATE: Anti-Morsi demonstrations turn violent in Cairo; clashes in several provincial cities

Ahram Online , Friday 8 Feb 2013

The anti-Brotherhood demonstrations in the capital had remained peaceful till nighttime; protesters started clashes with police in Alexandria and around the Delta in the late afternoon

Protests in Tahrir Square, Friday, 8 February 2013 (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Peaceful demonstrations against President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood outside the presidential palace in Heliopolis, Cairo have turned violent on Friday evening.

A number of armoured Central Security Forces rushed hundreds of protesters on Merghani Street, firing teargas in an attempt to steer protesters away from the perimeter of the presidential palace.

Protesters retreated in the direction of Roxy Square 500 metres away.

Police vehicles and personnel then advanced toward Khalifa Maamoun Boulevard taking up positions at the intersection of the Boulevard and Merghani Street.

The head of Egypt's Republican Guard told state-run news agency MENA that two officers and three soldiers were injured after being stoned by the demonstrators.

"Our soldiers are not present in the presidential palace's vicinity to avoid any direct confrontations with the people ... I ask the revolutionaries to firmly reject such acts," he added.

Ealier in the evening, security forces at the presidential palace fired shots into the air to ward off hundreds of anti-President Mohamed Morsi protesters who had reached the palace after they managed to remove the barbed wire and barricades surrounding one of the palace's gates.

Violent clashes in provinces

According to health ministry official Mohamed Sharshar, clashes between protesters and security forces in the Delta governorate of Gharbiya have resulted in 29 injuries so far on Friday evening, with injuries including severe breathing difficulties and fractures.

Clashes had broken out in the Gharbiya cities of Mahalla, Tanta, and Kafr El-Zayat in the late afternoon hours after a day of peaceful rallies.

In Mahalla, police fired tear gas at protesters when a group attempted to break into the Mahalla city council, and protesters responded by throwing Molotov cocktails at the building.

In Tanta, similar clashes erupted when a group attempted to storm the Gharbiya governorate building.

Zagazig, Morsi's hometown in the eastern Nile Delta, also witnessed scuffles that saw police fire tear gas to repel angry demonstrators in front of the president's house. Security forces had also foiled an attempt to storm the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party bureau in the city.  

Clashes had broken out earlier on Friday in front of a police station in the Gharbiya city of Kafr El-Zayat.

The demonstrations in the Delta cities come as part of nationwide anti-government rallies taking place in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, and Kafr El-Sheikh.

Clashes between protesters and security forces also broke out in Kafr Sheikh and Alexandria.

ONTV reported that eight people were injured during the clashes in Alexandria.

Protests in Cairo started peacefully

In the capital Cairo, where thousands marched on Tahrir and the presidential palace, demonstrations had remained calm into the early hours of Friday evening.

A number of leading opposition groups called for mass protests on Friday against Mohamed Morsi's regime and in favour of the revolution's demands.

Earlier on Friday, hundreds marched from Mostafa Mahmoud mosque in the Cairo suburb of Mohandeseen to Tahrir Square.

Hundreds more marched from Nour mosque in Abbasiya to the presidential palace in Heliopolis.

In Alexandria, hundreds marched from Qaed Ibrahim mosque in anti-government rallies.

Hundreds also demonstrated in Damietta on the Mediterranean against the government.

Marches also took place in Mansoura, Samanoud and Damanhour in the Delta, and Port Said on the Suez Canal.

The demonstrators chanted against the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi, who hails from its ranks.

Demonstrators also chanted against police brutality.

The opposition's call to protest came after widely published reports of human rights violations against anti-government protesters, including reports of torture.

A march from Cairo's Shubra district is also headed to Tahrir Square, with hundreds of Coptic activists raising pictures of those killed during clashes with the army on 9 October 2011.

Known as the Maspero massacre, 28 peaceful protesters lost their lives when a march against religious discrimination was attacked by security forces. Videos of the clashes showed military tanks driving over protesters.

The Shubra march was in protest at a recent court ruling sentencing two Copts to three years in prison on charges of stealing weapons from the army during the clashes. No military personnel have been held accountable for the events.

In Tahrir Square, Imam Mohamed Abdallah Nasr, who led the Friday prayers at noon, gave a sermon discussing a video that showed the police beating and dragging a naked protester, later named as Hamada Saber.

"Human dignity should be guaranteed to all regardless of gender, race or religion," the Al-Azhar sheikh stressed.

Nasr typically gives the Friday sermon and leads prayers in the centre of the iconic square on days when mass demonstrations are planned. Previously, Sheikh Mazhar Shaheen of the Omar Makram Mosque, which is located on the edge of the square, would lead the prayers.

Nasr is part of the Al-Azhar movement calling for a civil (i.e. non-theocratic) state. He is known to be an outspoken critic of the Muslim Brotherhood.

One banner in Tahrir displayed a message in French expressing solidarity with the Tunisian people after the killing of opposition figure Choukri Belaid. 

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