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Egypt army clears protesters from presidential palace

© AFP

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-12-06

Egypt’s army restored order around the presidential palace Thursday, clearing out demonstrators and setting up a barricade, following overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi that left at least five people dead.

The Egyptian army restored order outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Thursday, setting up a perimeter following overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, which left five people dead and at least 350 others wounded.

Soldiers ordered demonstrators to leave the palace area on Thursday before installing barbed wire barricades about 150 metres from the building’s grounds. Morsi supporters left the scene, but some opposition protesters reassembled in a nearby square.

Efforts to clear the area followed a meeting between Morsi, his defense minister and senior government officials earlier the same day. Afterwards, the army’s Republican Guard gave demonstrators from both camps a 3pm (13:00 GMT) deadline to leave the area.

Report: Hard times in Alexandria

The Egyptian army had deployed tanks and armoured personnel carriers to the presidential palace Thursday morning in the wake of pitched battles that erupted on Wednesday afternoon outside Cairo’s Heliopolis presidential palace. The fighting had continued overnight and into the morning in what were the first civilian clashes between the rival camps since last year’s ousting of former leader Hosni Mubarak.

The violence had also spread to other cities overnight, including Ismailia, east of Cairo, where protesters stormed and set alight the headquarters of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

On Wednesday night, following hours of clashes, police attempted to divide the two battling sides with riot police firing tear gas to disperse the crowds. But the Egyptian military, which played a crucial role in ending Mubarak’s 30-year rule, was not in sight.

Republican Guard rolls in

On Thursday morning, tanks and armoured personnel carriers belonging to the Republican Guard, an elite unit tasked with protecting the president and his palaces, were positioned outside the sprawling complex.

Calling for calm, the head of the Republican Guard, General Mohamed Zaki, told state media that the troops would not be used to "oppress" the protesters, but to separate them.

The latest violence underscored the deep divisions in the world’s most populous Arab nation as the country heads for a December 15 referendum on a new constitution that the opposition considers deeply flawed.

Leaders of both camps have blamed the other side for the latest clashes that have pitted Egypt’s Islamists – including Brotherhood supporters and Salafists – against a largely liberal, secular opposition.

The clashes in Cairo erupted Wednesday after the vice-president, Mahmoud Mekki, spoke to the press to say that there would be no backing down by Morsi. Shortly afterwards, the president’s supporters descended on the area around the palace where opponents were staging a sit-in.

Morsi 'responsible for the violence'

As clashes raged for hours, with rocks and petrol bombs flying between the two sides and the occasional sounds of gunshots, leading opposition activists held a press conference Wednesday evening.

In his remarks to the press, Mohamed ElBaradei, a former diplomat and now a leading opposition advocate of reform, said Morsi was “completely responsible for the violence that is happening in Egypt today”.

The duelling demonstrations are part of a political crisis that came to the forefront after Morsi issued a series of decrees on November 22 granting himself unprecedented powers that placed him beyond the reach of the judiciary.

In a bid to quell public anger, Morsi stressed that the new presidential decrees would only hold until a new constitution was approved. But the political crisis worsened after Morsi pushed through the approval of a draft constitution that was drawn up by an Islamist-led constituent assembly.

Despite widespread protests, the Egyptian president has refused to back down on the December 15 referendum.

The opposition National Salvation Front, which ElBaradei is part of, is demanding Morsi rescind the controversial presidential decrees and scrap the draft constitution which they say curtails freedom and leans the country towards Islamism.

Within the Islamist camp, there have been signs of divisions, with three members of Morsi’s advisory team resigning Wednesday over the crisis, according to presidential sources. Seif Abdel Fattah, Ayman al-Sayyad and Amr al-Leithy have tendered their resignations, bringing to six the number of presidential staff who have quit in the row over the decree.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-12-06

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