Violence erupts near presidential palace
CAIRO — Supporters and opponents of Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi fought with rocks, firebombs and sticks outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Wednesday, as a new round of protests deepened the country’s political crisis.
Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition advocate of reform and democracy, said Morsi’s rule was “no different” from that of former President Hosni Mubarak, whose authoritarian regime was toppled in an uprising nearly two years ago.
“In fact, it is perhaps even worse,” the Nobel Peace laureate told a news conference after he accused the president’s supporters of a “vicious and deliberate” attack on peaceful demonstrators.
The opposition is demanding Morsi rescind decrees giving him near unrestricted powers and shelve a disputed draft constitution that the president’s Islamist allies passed hurriedly last week.
The dueling demonstrations and violence are part of a political crisis that has left the country divided into two camps: Islamists versus an opposition made up of youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the public. Both sides have dug in their heels, signaling a protracted standoff.
The latest clashes began when thousands of Islamist supporters of Morsi descended on the area around the palace where about 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. The Islamists, members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group, chased the protesters away from their base outside the palace’s main gate and tore down their tents. The protesters scattered in side streets where they chanted anti-Morsi slogans.
After a lull in fighting, hundreds of young Morsi opponents arrived at the scene and immediately began throwing firebombs at the president’s backers, who responded with rocks.
No casualties were immediately reported, but witnesses said they saw several protesters with blood streaming down their faces. Several opposition groups said they were calling on their supporters to head to the palace area, a move that portended more violence.
“I voted for Morsi to get rid of Hosni Mubarak. I now regret it,” Nadia elShafie yelled at the Brotherhood supporters.
By nightfall, there were about 10,000 Islamists outside the palace. They set up metal barricades to keep traffic off a stretch of road that runs parallel to the palace in Cairo’s upscale Heliopolis district. Some of them appeared to plan staging their own sit-in.
Vice President Mahmoud Mekki called for a dialogue between the president and the opposition to reach a “consensus” on the disputed articles of the constitution and put their agreement in a document that would be discussed by the next parliament.