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Mayhem erupts on Egypt holiday

| Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

CAIRO — A national holiday celebrating the military turned to chaos on Sunday in Egypt, with clashes between security forces and Islamist protesters leaving 51 dead.

Crowds from Egypt's two rival camps — supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsy and backers of the military that deposed him — poured into the streets and turned on each other.

Several neighborhoods in Cairo resembled combat zones as a result of street battles that raged for hours. Morsy supporters fired birdshot and threw firebombs at police, who responded with gunshots and tear gas.

The streets were left strewn with debris, and the air was thick with tear gas and smoke from fires.

The day's death toll was the highest since Aug. 14, when security forces raided two sit-in protest camps by Morsy supporters, killing hundreds.

An Associated Press photographer saw nine bodies lying on the floor of a clinic in the Cairo district of Dokki, scene of some of the heaviest clashes. Most of the bodies had gunshot wounds in the head or chest.

Even as fighting continued in the streets, the military moved ahead with lavish celebrations for the holiday marking the 40th anniversary of the start of the 1973 Mideast war with Israel.

A concert was aired live on state TV from a military-run Cairo stadium. Pop stars from Egypt, Lebanon and the gulf sang anthems to the army, and dancers twirled onstage before a cheering crowd.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, other top brass and interim President Adly Mansour attended the show.

“There are those who think the military can be broken,” al-Sisi said in an address at the concert. “You see the pyramids? The military is like the pyramids, because the Egyptian people are on its side.”

The clashes were the latest chapter in the turmoil roiling the country since the ouster in February 2011 of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The new violence is certain to set back efforts by the interim, military-backed government to revive the economy — especially the vital tourism sector — and bring order to the streets of Cairo, where crime and lawlessness have been rife.

Morsy was Egypt's first civilian, freely elected president, succeeding four since the early 1950s who hailed from military backgrounds. But after a year in office, Morsy was faced by huge protests demanding his ouster. Al-Sisi removed him on July 3.

The military is back as the real source of power in Egypt, and state and independent media have been depicting it as the country's savior — with growing calls for al-Sisi to run in the presidential election next year.

Sunday's holiday was an opportunity for Egypt's leaders to further fan the pro-military fervor sweeping the country since the coup. But it also was a chance for Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies to show that they are surviving a post-coup crackdown in which more than 2,000 from their ranks have been jailed.

Thousands of their backers held marches in various parts of Cairo, while crowds in support of the military took to the streets. In some cases, the sides set upon each other, pelting each other with rocks and firebombs.

The Health Ministry reported more than 240 people were injured in the clashes. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said 423 Morsy supporters were detained across the nation.

“It is now crystal clear that the coup is a nightmare for Egypt and its people and is trying so hard to tear the fabric of this nation,” a coalition grouping the Brotherhood and its allies said in a statement.

“At the time when festivities are arranged for one section of the population, they call on Egyptians to dance on the dead bodies of their compatriots who oppose the coup,” it said, calling for a rally on Friday in Tahrir Square.

Soldiers barricaded entrances to central Tahrir Square with barbed wire and armored personnel vehicles to guard it against possible attempts by Morsy supporters to enter the plaza, Egypt's most prominent political stage since it was the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak uprising nearly three years ago.

Metal detectors were installed at the entrances, and demonstrators pouring into the square were searched by troops.

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