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Clashes erupt in Egypt

13 September 2013, 21:00

Cairo - Sporadic clashes erupted Friday between supporters and opponents of Egypt's ousted president during nationwide protests as the military battled al-Qaeda-inspired groups in northern Sinai.

The street rallies came a day after Egypt's military-backed interim government extended a nationwide state of emergency order another two months citing ongoing security concerns.

Officials said they feared other potential terrorist attacks after a failed assassination attempt targeting Egypt's interior minister and suicide attacks at military building and checkpoint in Sinai that killed six.

Unrest in Egypt spiked after the popularly backed 3 July military coup that toppled President Mohammed Morsi. The military-backed government responded by targeting the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group Morsi hails from, for arrest and detention.

Other Brotherhood members, like Essam el-Erian, remain on the run.

"We will not give up our rights," el-Erian said while urging more protests in a video aired on Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr, one of the Qatari-based network's affiliates. "We will not surrender to an oppressive power that only speaks the language of the bullets."

El-Erian is wanted on charges of inciting violence and murder.

The security crackdown has impacted the group's ability to mobilize in the streets to protest Morsi's ouster and the military. But on Friday, demonstrations appeared to be larger than usual. Several descended into violence.

In the coastal city of Alexandria, hundreds of Brotherhood protesters and others marched after Friday prayers from a main mosque to a major thoroughfare where they confronted a protest by pro-military protesters.

State television showed footage of anti-Morsi protesters tearing down Morsi posters and chasing Brotherhood supporters through the streets.

The four-finger hand

Authorities said the two sides hurled stones at each other as gunshots could be heard. Security forces broke up the melee by firing tear gas and arresting a number of protesters, officials said.

In the industrial city of Mahallah, officials said riot police fired tear gas to disperse another Islamist demonstration near a police station.

Several television crews also came under attack by Morsi supporters. Both Al-Hayat TV and state-run networks said protesters reportedly stolen their live transmission equipment.

The Brotherhood-led coalition earlier announced a black list of journalists and media personalities, accused by the group of inciting public against the group.

Across Egypt, crowds of Morsi supporters raised yellow signs depicting the four-finger hand symbolising Rabaah al-Adawiya, the site of main encampment raided by security forces on 14 August that sparked violence that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded. Some demonstrators carried pictures of the slain protesters while chanting: "It is a military coup."

"After all the massacres and after seeing people die in front of my eyes, you have to take to the streets," said Haitham Mohammed, 28, who joined a protest in eastern Cairo's Nasr City. Mohammed said he lost three of his friends in the dismantling of Rabaa protest camp.

Some Cairo residents watching the protests blamed demonstrators for Egypt's economic downturn and the security woes plaguing the country.

"The state should respond strongly against those protests because they are slowing down economy," said Ali Abdel-Karim, a resident in Cairo's Dokki neighborhood. "If I were a state official, I would just kill them all."

Meanwhile in the Sinai, helicopter gunships targeted suspected Islamic militant hideouts in a number of villages south of the town of Sheikh Zuweyid and farmlands near the city of el-Arish at sunrise, a military official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to journalists.

Sheik Hassan Khalaf, who lives in a village some five kilometres from the targeted areas, said that he saw smoke billowing in the sky after hearing loud explosions starting from 05:00.

I hope the military never stops

"I think that the suicide attacks are desperate attempt to repel military assault," Khalaf said in a telephone interview. "But as a resident here, I hope the military never stops until they are all out of here."

Earlier, tribesmen expressed anger over two elders being accidentally shot and the military demolishing of homes in middle of the fighting.

"Those Takfiris are hiding in middle of the residential areas. It's a war and it is very possible that people get shot in the middle. This is unavoidable," Khalaf said, referring to extremists who reject anyone who doesn't follow their strict interpretation of Islam as heretics.

Friday's attack is part of a new offensive launched last week by the Egyptian military in the Sinai. The offensive comes as more than 70 police officers and soldiers have been killed by militants. In the worst single attack, gunmen pulled police recruits from buses, ordered them to lay on the ground and shot 25 of them to death on 19 August.

A total of 29 militants were killed in a three-day military offensive that began 7 September. Officials did not immediately offer casualty figures for Friday's offensive.

Also, a group called Jund al-Islam claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombings in a town bordering with Gaza Strip that killed six earlier this week.

In a statement posted on Islamic websites late on Thursday night, Jund al-Islam said that the attacks came in retaliation for "el-Sissi militias of traitors[in] the Egyptian army" who are launching "a direct war against Islam." The message refers to Egypt's Defence Minister and Military Chief Gen Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi.

The statement appeared identical to an earlier statement by another Sinai-based group, Ansar Jerusalem, which claimed responsibility for the failed assassination attempt on Egypt's Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim last week.

That attack, in the heart of Cairo, killed one person and wounded more than 20. The minister escaped unharmed.

- AP


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