Protesters help a man who was injured by a rubber bullet fired by the police during clashes in Cairo on Saturday. (AFP)
Cairo, Jan. 25 (Reuters): Twenty nine people were killed during anti-government marches today while thousands rallied in support of the army-led authorities, underlining Egypt’s volatile political fissures three years after the fall of President Mubarak.
Security forces lobbed teargas and some fired automatic weapons in the air to try to prevent demonstrators opposed to the government reaching Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the 2011 uprising that toppled the former air force commander.
As police tried to calm Cairo’s politically-charged streets, a car bomb exploded near a police camp in the Egyptian city of Suez, security sources said.
The blast, which was followed by a fierce exchange of gunfire, suggested the authorities could be locked in a long-term battle with Islamist insurgents who are gaining momentum.
But the growing violence has not dented the popularity of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose ouster of Islamist Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s first freely-elected President, plunged the country into turmoil.
Instead of commemorating Mubarak’s overthrow, tens of thousand of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir to pledge their support for Sisi in an event stage-managed by the state. An army marching band played, while vendors sold t-shirts with the general’s image for five Egyptian pounds.
Huge banners and posters displayed Sisi in his trademark dark sunglasses at today’s rally. Some women kissed posters.
The core demands of the 2011 revolt 0151— freedom and social justice — could only be heard in protests outside Tahrir, which were quickly muzzled by security forces. The Sisi mania underscored the prevailing desire for a decisive military man Egyptians can count on to stabilise Egypt.
But an end to street violence seemed nowhere in sight. Not far from Tahrir, police in black uniforms clutching assault rifles fired tear gas canisters in a clampdown on anti-government protesters lasting for about two hours.
Six protesters were killed in different parts of the capital, where armoured personnel carriers were deployed to try and keep order, and anyone entering Tahrir had to pass through metal detectors.
In the southern town of Minya, two persons were killed in clashes between Mursi supporters and security forces, said Brig. Gen. Hisham Nasr, director of criminal investigations in the regional police department.
A woman was killed in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria during clashes between supporters of Mursi and security forces. The pressure prompted one alliance of liberals to call on their members to withdraw from the streets.
But others gathered in central Cairo after nightfall to call for an end to the army-backed government. “Down with military rule,” they chanted.
Sisi toppled Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July after mass protests against what critics called his mismanagement and increasingly arbitrary rule, triggering a confrontation with the veteran Islamist movement that has hit investment hard.
The general, who served as head of military intelligence under Mubarak, is expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency soon and likely to win by a landslide in elections, expected within six months.