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Africa

Islamist students torch buildings at university in Cairo

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-28

Protesting Egyptian students loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood set fire to two buildings at Al-Azhar University's Cairo campus following clashes with police on Saturday, state television reported.

At least one student was killed in the fighting, a doctor told the AFP news agency. Reuters also quoted an activist as saying a protester had been killed, although this was denied by a security source.

State TV broadcast footage of black smoke billowing from the university’s faculty of commerce building and said “terrorist students” had set the agriculture faculty building on fire as well.

State-run newspaper Al-Ahram said the fighting began when security forces fired teargas to disperse pro-Brotherhood students who were preventing their classmates from entering university buildings to take exams. Protesters threw rocks at police and set tyres on fire to counter the teargas.

The Brotherhood was officially designated as a terrorist organisation by the state earlier this week after 16 people were killed in a suicide attack on a police station, although the group condemned the attack and it was claimed by a radical faction based in the Sinai Peninsula.

Mass protests by Brotherhood supporters across Egypt followed on Friday, with at least five people killed in clashes with police and hundreds arrested.

The Brotherhood has been at the forefront of demonstrations against what it calls the “military coup” that deposed Islamist Mohammed Morsi as president after a year in office.

Al-Azhar, a respected centre of Sunni Islamic learning, has for months been the scene of many of the group’s protests.

Government seeking to ‘crush opposition movement’

Egypt’s army-backed government has sought to crackdown on the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies in recent months – increasing tension in a country suffering the worst internal strife of its modern history following Morsi’s ousting in July.

A conservative estimate puts the overall death toll since Morsi’s fall at well over 1,500. Most of those killed were Morsi supporters, including hundreds gunned down when the security forces cleared a protest vigil outside a Cairo mosque.

At least 350 members of the security forces have also been killed in bombings and shootings since Morsi’s downfall. The state has declared them martyrs of a war on terrorism.

The move to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation effectively bans all the group’s activities, including demonstrations – an apparent attempt to clamp down on dissent ahead of a referendum next month on a new constitution, a step that will pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections.

Human Rights Watch on Saturday criticised the government’s designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist group as “politically driven”.

“By rushing to point the finger at the Brotherhood without investigations or evidence, the government seems motivated solely by its desire to crush a major opposition movement.” said Sarah Leah Whitson of the New York-based rights group.

Under the anti-terrorism law dating back to the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, those convicted can be jailed for life, while authorities said this week that the Brotherhood’s leaders could face the death sentence.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2013-12-28

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