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Cairo’s night of mayhem
- Tanks out after Islamists battle secular protesters

Cairo, Dec. 6: An elite Egyptian unit deployed tanks outside the presidential palace today after a night of battles between Islamists and secular protesters that left seven people dead and 450 wounded, spreading chaos in one of Cairo’s wealthiest suburbs and leaving streets littered with debris and burned-out cars.

Later tonight, the director of state broadcasting resigned, as did Rafik Habib, a Christian who was the vice-president of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the party’s favoruite example of its commitment to tolerance and pluralism. Their departures followed an announcement by Zaghoul el-Balshi, the new general secretary of the commission overseeing a planned constitutional referendum, that he was quitting.

Angry mobs of Islamists battled the secular protesters with fists, rocks and firebombs in the first major outbreak of violence between political factions here since the revolt against then-President Hosni Mubarak began nearly two years ago.

With at least 12 tanks drawn up near the palace, troops from the presidential guard hammered stakes into the ground to string barbed wire to separate Islamists camping outside the palace and secular protesters chanting slogans urging the guardsmen to choose “between the revolutionaries and the killers”. Mursi’s Prime Minister implored both sides to pull back in order to make room for “dialogue”.

Graffiti on the walls of the presidential compound, mocking President Mursi, had been covered by this morning with patches of white paint.

The scale of the fighting, in the affluent Heliopolis neighbourhood just outside Mursi’s office in the presidential palace, raised the first doubts about Mursi’s attempt to hold a referendum on December 15 to approve a draft Constitution approved by his Islamist allies over the objections of his secular Opposition and the Coptic Christian Church.

Hundreds of Islamist supporters of Mursi spent the night outside the palace, and today some awoke with head bandages covering their wounds sustained. Many said they were members of the Muslim Brotherhood from other provinces.

They said they had come to defend Egypt’s democracy from a conspiracy by foreign powers, corrupt businessmen and cynical Opposition leaders. In a token of the deep suspicions since Egypt’s revolution, some maintained that Mursi could not rely on the police force to defend him and his palace.

 
 
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