By Maggie Fick and Hadeel Al Shalchi
Five people were killed in clashes on Friday as supporters of deposed President President Mohamed Mursi took to the streets of Cairo and other cities to demand the end of army-backed rule.
The marches were the most ambitious attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to press its demands since Aug. 14, when authorities smashed two pro-Mursi sit-ins in Cairo and then declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew.
An Egyptian army vehicle fired live rounds in the direction of Brotherhood supporters who had been pushed away from Cairo’s Tahrir Square by security forces, a Reuters witness said.
Four people were shot dead in clashes in the southern city of Assuit, medical and health sources said. It was not clear which side they were on.
Medical sources in Cairo said a Brotherhood supporter had died from a gunshot wound in clashes in the capital.
Onlookers threw rocks at the pro-Mursi protesters, who hurled them back. Riot police earlier fired tear gas to push back the march.
Thousands of protesters headed toward the site of a former Brotherhood protest camp in northeast Cairo which was crushed by security forces in August. By late afternoon, protesters had retreated from the area.
Members of the Brotherhood, which has been banned by court order, tried to reach the presidential palace but were turned back by police.
The state news agency said protesters failed to reach the defence ministry and a Republican Guard facility.
Fighting also erupted in Egypt’s second city Alexandria and two Nile Delta cities.
The Brotherhood won every election after a popular uprising ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but became deeply unpopular under Mursi’s rule.
Mursi was accused of trying to give himself sweeping powers and entrenching the Brotherhood – allegations he denies.
Egypt has been gripped by political and economic turmoil since army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew Mursi, the country’s first freely elected president, on July 3 after mass protests against his rule.
EFFORTS AT RECONCILIATION
Friday’s violence came a day after European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton held talks in Cairo with top government officials, Sisi, and two Brotherhood politicians and urged both sides to pursue reconciliation.
There was no sign either side was prepared to heed her call.
Hundreds of people were killed in mid-August when the security forces broke up Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo. Many of the Brotherhood’s top leaders have been arrested since.
“They (the government) want a country without religion,” said protester Rasha al-Malky.
Sisi has promised that a political road map will lead to elections in the Arab world’s most populous nation. The Brotherhood, which says the military staged a coup, has refused to take part in the political transition.
Friday’s clashes in Cairo broke out as Mursi supporters tried to enter the centre of Tahrir Square, the rallying point for hundreds of thousands of protesters during the popular uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The protesters chanted slogans calling for the removal of Sisi and waved Egyptian flags.
State news agency MENA said the army fired warning shots and tear gas to prevent Brotherhood supporters from crossing a bridge leading into Tahrir Square.
Protesters wrote graffiti on the wall of a building near Tahrir reading “Egypt is Islamic.” Others chanted “You coward Sisi” as tear gas billowed in the air.
Political tensions have decimated investment and tourism, a pillar of the economy. Attacks by militant groups based in the Sinai Peninsula have risen sharply since Mursi’s ouster, with almost daily operations against soldiers and police.
Two Egyptian soldiers were killed by masked gunmen in a drive-by shooting on Friday morning on a road near the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, security sources said. The city borders the Sinai.
Fears are growing that an Islamist insurgency will take hold beyond the Sinai, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip. A Sinai-based group claimed responsibility for a failed suicide bombing attack on the interior minister in Cairo last month.
On Friday, the Salafi Jihadi militant group warned that any local Bedouin leader who cooperated with the Egyptian authorities would be targeted.