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Violent clashes show no slowdown outside Egyptian palace

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 8:14 p.m.
Supporters of Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsy attack an anti-Morsy protester on Wednesday outside the presidential palace in Cairo. AP

CAIRO — Bloody clashes continued outside Egypt's presidential palace into Thursday as followers of President Mohamed Morsy attacked an opposition sit-in.

It was the worst violence between the sides since the 2011 revolution that deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak.

At least three were killed and more than 350 injured by nightfall, according to the Health Ministry.

Hundreds of thousands across the nation protested a day earlier against Morsy, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and a draft constitution that opponents say will limit individual freedom and impose Islamic rule.

Protesters in the capital forced Morsy to leave the palace, where a small number of protesters remained encamped. His whereabouts were not known.

The violence erupted when Brotherhood supporters marched on the palace to defend Morsy's “legitimacy against brutal transgressions.” They attacked the sit-in, which brought out more opposition forces.

Both sides threw stones and Molotov cocktails. They traded taunts — “The people want the implementation of Allah's law!” and “The people want the downfall of the regime!”

Anti-Morsy activists accused Morsy supporters of using clubs, pellet guns and live ammunition.

“They are savages. They have weapons, they have tear gas, they are shooting from the buildings,” Mohamed Soliman, a student protester, said of Morsy's supporters.

“It's chaotic, it's horrible. The civil war has just begun.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, leader of Egypt's Salvation Front opposition coalition, warned that the “vicious attacks” on the anti-Morsy crowd will lead to greater bloodshed.

Essam El Erian, deputy leader of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice political party, described the violence as “the last battle between the revolution and the counter-revolution.”

As the fighting broke out, Vice President Mahmoud Mekki said Egypt's political unrest cannot be solved by “counter protests.” He dismissed critics' comparisons of Morsy to the ousted Mubarak as a “blatant injustice.”

ElBaradei, a former U.N. diplomat and Nobel laureate, warned that “Egyptians will protest in every place … and won't back down” unless Morsy rescinds a Nov. 22 decree seizing near-total power and postpones a Dec. 15 constitutional referendum.

He described Morsy's government as a “repressive regime” and called on him to address the nation.

“Morsy has lost all legitimacy to rule this country,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, an unsuccessful leftist presidential candidate. He said the Salvation Front will follow ElBaradei's leadership.

In an Internet posting, the Brotherhood accused followers Mubarak of paying thugs to attack protesters at the palace to “spread violence and chaos.” It said it holds ElBaradei and Sabahi “fully responsible” for further violence.

After two days of spreading unrest, Egypt — a key U.S. ally and major U.S. aid recipient under Mubarak — appears to be lurching toward a political abyss.

In the upscale neighborhood of Heliopolis, where most of the street fighting occurred, cars sat destroyed, store windows were shattered, and residents formed block-watch groups as they did during the lawlessness that followed last year's revolution.

Many Egyptians lamented the violent turn.

“My country bleeds,” writer and political analyst Bassem Sabry posted on his Twitter account.

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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