Supporters of Egypt’s President, Mohammed Mursi, have clashed with opponents in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, leaving more than 100 injured in the worst violence over the Islamists’ leadership.
Mr Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement and a coalition of secular-leaning groups held separate rallies on Friday on some of the thorniest issues facing the new democracy.
The Health Ministry said at least 110 people were injured as protesters showered each other with stones and petrol bombs, after Mr Mursi’s supporters tore down a podium from which anti-Brotherhood chants were being orchestrated.
Protesters torched two buses used by the Brotherhood to drive supporters into central Cairo, witnesses said.
The violence erupted as Mr Mursi faced a backlash from judges after trying to sack the chief prosecutor following last week’s acquittals of Mubarak-era officials on trial for a deadly attack on protesters during last year’s uprising.
Despite multiple statements from Brotherhood leaders saying they would attend the rally, the group denied on Twitter that any of its members was involved in the fighting.
”We are not involved in Tahrir clashes, and none of our members were there,” it wrote on its Twitter account, prompting a wave of derision from others who posted videos of apparent Brotherhood members in the square.
The clashes subsided when Islamists withdrew from the square in the evening. State television reported that they held a protest outside the nearby state prosecutor’s office.
In a speech in the coastal city of Alexandria, Mr Mursi pledged to bring to justice officials accused of organising the killings of protesters during the uprising that eventually brought his once-banned movement to power following the downfall of Hosni Mubarak.
”We will never ignore those who committed crimes against the nation and corrupted it,” he said in the speech reported by the official MENA news agency. But other groups that had taken part in the 18-day uprising and now oppose Mr Mursi, accuse the Islamists of dominating political life, particularly a crucial body that is drafting Egypt’s new constitution.
”The Brotherhood realised today that the Muslim Brotherhood is not all of Egypt,” said protester, Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, an opponent of the movement. Mr Mursi narrowly won a June election which presented voters with an unpopular choice between an Islamist president and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister.
Friday’s clashes were the most violent in a simmering struggle between Mr Mursi’s movement and his opponents, who range from Mubarak loyalists to groups which spearheaded the revolt against the former dictator. He also faces intense opposition from powerful judges who accuse him of trying to detract from their authority.
An influential group of Egyptian judges backed state prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmud’s refusal to resign after Mr Mursi ordered his removal on Thursday, the official newspaper Al-Ahram reported.
Mr Mursi’s bid to remove Mr Mahmud bypassed checks on presidential control of the prosecutor, further enraging judges after the President had unsuccessfully tried to reverse a court order disbanding the Islamist-dominated parliament.
Mr Mahmud said he received threats from a senior judge and an ally of Mr Mursi who told him he could be assaulted if he did not heed the decree to resign.
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