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Egyptian army intervenes to stop Tahrir clashes, spokesman says

Published: Updated:

Supporters of Egypt’s ousted Islamist president Mohammad Mursi took to the streets in their tens of thousands Friday, defying the army that deposed him and triggering violence that killed at least 14 people nationwide.

In the restive north of the Sinai peninsula, armed supporters of Mursi stormed the provincial headquarters in the town of El-Arish after a gunfight and raised the black banner of Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants, an AFP correspondent said.

In Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, at least two people were killed when Mursi supporters traded fire with his opponents, state television reported.

The clashes subsided when the army separated the protesters using armored vehicles.

“We are not taking sides. Our mission is to secure the lives of protesters,” military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali told AFP.

Four protesters were killed outside the Republican Guard headquarters after breaking away from a pro-Mursi demonstration, the official MENA news agency reported.

The bodies of two people were covered with sheets, said an AFP correspondent, adding that another protester was shot in the head.

Soldiers had warned a protester with a picture of the ousted president not to approach their barbed wire cordon.

They opened fire when he ignored them, and shots were then heard from both sides, an AFP reporter said.

The Islamists accuse the military of conducting a brazen coup against Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, after millions called for his ouster on the June 30 anniversary of his first turbulent year in power.

Friday’s violence came as the supreme guide of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, vowed that members of the Islamist movement would stay on the streets in their millions until his presidency is restored.

Badie appeared at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque to screams of joy from jubilant supporters, following reports he had been detained after Wednesday’s ouster of the president.

“Millions will remain in the squares until we carry our elected president, Mohamed Mursi, on our shoulders,” Badie told the crowd, before leading chants of “Military coup!” and “Invalid!”

Violence between Mursi’s supporters and opponents left one protester dead in Egypt’s second city Alexandria and another at Assiut in central Egypt, officials said.

Violence also gripped other parts of Egypt, including the Sinai where gunmen killed five policemen and Islamists killed a soldier in a machinegun and rocket attack.

In El-Arish, at least 16 people were wounded in clashes before armed Mursi supporters stormed the provincial HQ.

The armed forces have already sworn in Adly Mansour as interim president, and he issued his first decree on Friday, dissolving the Islamist-led parliament and appointing a new intelligence chief.

Before Friday’s rallies, around a dozen low-flying military jets screamed across Cairo, but the show of force failed to deter Mursi’s supporters.

Mursi, who has not been seen since Wednesday, had issued a defiant call for supporters to protect his elected “legitimacy”, in a recorded speech aired hours after his removal.

The military had said it supported the right to peaceful protest, but warned against violence and acts of civil disobedience.

Ahead of Friday’s rallies, Mansour had called in a television interview for unity.

“All I can say to the Egyptian people is to be one body. We had enough of division,” he told Britain’s Channel 4.

Prominent liberal leader Mohamed ElBaradei defended the military’s intervention, saying “the other option was a civil war.

“We were between a rock and a hard place, and people need to understand that,” the former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief told the BBC.

Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced Mursi’s overthrow on Wednesday night, citing his inability to end a deepening political crisis.

Military police rounded up senior Brotherhood members, although two were later released.

Mursi himself was “preventively detained”, a senior officer told AFP.

A judicial source said the prosecution would on Monday begin questioning Brotherhood members, including Mursi, for “insulting the judiciary”.

Mursi’s rule was marked by accusations that he concentrated power in the hands of the Brotherhood.

His supporters argue Mursi was confronted at every turn with a hostile bureaucracy left over by Hosni Mubarak, overthrown in the Arab Spring-inspired uprising of 2011.