Pro-Morsi protester shot dead as Egypt standoff intensifies

Pro, anti-Morsi protesters battle as police fire tear gas; 3 bombs explode in Al-Arish as military continues Sinai operation.

By REUTERS,
August 13, 2013 19:00
Police detain a supporter of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo August 13, 2013.

Cairo clashes August 13, 2013 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

 
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CAIRO - One Muslim Brotherhood member was shot dead and at least 11 people wounded in Egypt on Tuesday, security sources said, with the Islamist group accusing plain clothes police of firing on their march.

The killing could harden the standoff between the Brotherhood, which is demanding the reinstatement of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, and the army-backed government.

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Supporters and opponents of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi battled in downtown Cairo's streets on Tuesday, hurling rocks at each other as police fired volleys of tear gas. In the Sinai town of Al-Arish, three bombs exploded as the military continued operations against terrorists and tunnels to Gaza. No injuries were reported.

A military source said that all the tunnels near Rafah have been destroyed or are under military control, according to the Egypt Independent. The army is gaining valuable intelligence on the jihadists from interrogations held with captured fighters, according to the source.

The violence erupted as a proposal by al-Azhar, Egypt's leading religious authority, to bring together adversaries in the political crisis appeared to inch forward.

The Nour Party, the second biggest Islamist group, forecast that Al-Azhar-backed talks would happen very soon, while Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood signaled it was ready to take part as long as they were on the right terms.

But the clashes showed the country was still dangerously divided six weeks after the army overthrew Morsi. Brotherhood protest camps at Cairo's al-Nahda Square and around Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque are the immediate focus of the crisis. Morsi supporters stood their ground behind barricades on Tuesday while Egypt's interim leaders debated how to end their sit-in.



No police crackdown appeared imminent despite frequent warnings from the army-installed government that the protesters should pack up and leave peacefully. Egypt’s leadership debated how to deal with the protests and decided to lay siege to the camp instead of raiding and forcibly removing the protesters.

Major General Abdel Fattah Othman, the Assistant Minister of Interior Affairs, Public Relations and Media said that the Ministry of Interior is ready to disperse the protests, but is giving a chance for efforts aimed at reaching a political settlement, according to Egypt’s State Information Service.

The pro-Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy called for a march on Tuesday titled, “Together against Coup and Zionism,” according to a report by Ahram Online. The aim of the anti-Zionism theme was to point to the rumored collaboration between Egypt and Israeli military forces in the Sinai.

Clashes broke out in central Cairo when a few thousand Morsi supporters marched to the Interior Ministry

Pro-army residents and shop-workers taunted them, calling them terrorists and saying they were not welcome. They then threw stones at the marchers, getting showered back in return.

Some hurled bottles at the Morsi supporters from balconies. Police then fired tear gas at the demonstrators. Women and children marchers fled the scene in panic.

The clashes spread to several streets and brought Cairo traffic to a standstill.

Meanwhile, Egypt's interim president named at least 18 new provincial governors on Tuesday, half of them retired generals, in a shake-up that restored the influence of men from army and police backgrounds and flushed out Muslim Brotherhood members.

Deposed President Mohamed Morsi had appointed a number of civilians as provincial governors during his one year in office. Many of them were members of the Brotherhood. That marked a break with the Hosni Mubarak era, when the posts typically went to retired army and police officers.

PEACE INITIATIVE

The Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour party, Egypt's second largest Islamist party, both suggested on Tuesday they would be willing to join a meeting called by al-Azhar, whose initiative is the only known effort to end the crisis peacefully following the collapse of international mediation last week.

"If they stick to the rules we're asking for, yes," Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad said, adding that talks must be based on the "restoration of constitutional legitimacy".

The Brotherhood would oppose proposals made by al-Azhar's Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, because he had supported the army's overthrow of Mursi, Haddad said. But he said there had been contacts with other al-Azhar officials.

Nour Party head Younes Makhyoun said his party had been invited to the al-Azhar talks.

"Currently the noble al-Azhar is trying to bring together for discussions those who have drawn up initiatives to agree, for example, on one initiative and vision, which we will use to pressure all the parties, so they accept it," he told Reuters.

The effort, however, was being complicated by the friction between the Brotherhood and al-Azhar, he said.

The government has its own plan for elections in nine months, but for now it is wrestling with the difficult issue of how to tackle the protest camps.

Some officials wish to avoid a bloody showdown, which would damage the government's efforts to present itself as legitimate, while hardliners in the army and security forces fear they are losing face to the Brotherhood and want to move in.

More than 300 people have already died in political violence since Mursi's overthrow on July 3, including dozens of his supporters killed by security forces in two separate incidents.

The state-run al-Ahram newspaper reported that after a National Security Council meeting late on Monday, security forces were likely to cordon off the camps rather than take a more forceful approach that could lead to bloodshed.

A senior security source told al-Ahram that security had been bolstered around the camps to prevent weapons getting in.

Senior Brotherhood politician Farid Ismail said he did not expect the Interior Ministry to break up the encampments by force because of the likely casualty toll.

"It would be a big crime in addition to the crimes already committed, because it will result in a great cost in terms of massacres and dead," he said. "There are very large numbers, complete families, men, wives, children."

Also on Tuesday, a court set Sept. 7 as the start of another case brought against Mursi's allies, including prominent politician Mohamed el-Beltagi, on charges of kidnapping and torturing two members of the security forces.

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