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Deadly battles erupt as Morsy backers take to Cairo streets

| Friday, July 5, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of supporters of Egypt's deposed Islamist president rallied across Cairo on Friday, hurling rocks and fireworks and clashing with security forces in the first major show of defiance against what they have termed an illegal military coup.

As night fell over Cairo and military helicopters circled the capital, supporters and opponents of ousted President Mohamed Morsy battled on the bridges and overpasses leading to Tahrir Square, the heart of the protests that preceded Morsy's removal Wednesday. Civilians attacked one another with chunks of asphalt, used corrugated metal sheets as shields and set fire to a car in scenes reminiscent of the chaotic street fights that accompanied the revolt that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.

At least 30 people were killed nationwide and 210 were injured, according to health officials, but the toll was likely to rise. State television said two people were killed in the clashes around Tahrir Square.

Egypt's military, which removed Morsy from power after widespread protests against what his critics deemed an autocratic approach to leadership, had pledged to allow peaceful protests and didn't immediately intervene to stop the street battles, despite having troops posted nearby.

After nearly three hours, as the Morsy supporters were beginning to fall back, a line of armored personnel carriers, some with civilians riding aboard and waving, rolled across the October 6 Bridge, ending the fighting.

The violence marked a sharp escalation in tension since the military took charge this week, suspending the constitution, issuing arrest warrants for some 300 Muslim Brotherhood figures and installing a senior jurist as interim president.

Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who won a narrow majority in Egypt's first democratic election last year, has called on supporters to defend his “legitimacy” but has urged nonviolence.

The army has said it won't re-impose military rule — as it did after Mubarak's ouster — but it hasn't set a date for parliamentary or constitutional elections.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “We condemn the violence that has taken place today in Egypt. We call on all Egyptian leaders to condemn the use of force and to prevent further violence among their supporters. As President Obama said, we expect the military to ensure that the rights of all Egyptians are protected, including the right to peaceful assembly, and we call on all who are protesting to do so peacefully.”

The violence raised the prospect that the Egyptian military might intervene more forcefully to restore order or might crack down more heavily on the Muslim Brotherhood if its leaders are believed to have incited the attacks.

In east Cairo, four people were killed when security forces opened fire on pro-Morsy demonstrators outside the headquarters of the Republican Guard, where the deposed president was believed to be held under military arrest.

Video images captured at the scene showed a demonstrator in a gray T-shirt running up to a barbed-wire fence surrounding the Republican Guard facility and then collapsing in a heap as shots were fired.

State media, quoting security sources, said government forces had fired tear gas and blank cartridges but not live rounds.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters also stormed governors' offices in two northern regions, Sinai and Fayoum, according to the state-run MENA news agency.

The Brotherhood's spiritual leader made a dramatic appearance before tens of thousands of supporters denouncing “military rule” and chanting, “Our president is Mohamed Morsy.”

Supreme guide Mohamed Badie, an avuncular figure in spectacles who delivered an impassioned address, was thought to have been under military arrest, but he declared those reports “a lie.”

It wasn't immediately clear whether he hadn't been arrested or whether he had been released by the military, which is eager to show the Brotherhood's legions of supporters that its coup was based on Morsy's inability to overcome divisions in society rather than because it held antipathy toward the Brotherhood.

But the Islamist camp appeared reenergized. Badie's speech featured the Brotherhood's favored nationalist-religious rhetoric, reminding Egyptians that they stood with them through Mubarak's three decades of authoritarian rule.

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