Muslim Brotherhood vows to reinstate Morsi
Tens of thousands of Islamists have streamed across a Nile River bridge towards Cairo’s Tahrir Square, threatening a showdown.
Earlier, the top leader of the Muslim Brotherhood spoke defiantly before a cheering crowd of supporters, vowing to reinstate ousted President Mohammed Morsi and end military rule.
General Guide Mohammed Badie’s fiery speech, with a military helicopter hovering overhead, came soon after army troops fired on a pro-Morsi rally and one protester was killed.
The dramatic appearance by Mr Badie on stage before tens of thousands of supporters in Cairo was his first in public since the president was ousted.
It injected a further vehemence into the campaign by Mr Morsi’s largely Islamist supporters, who have denounced the military’s removal of Egypt’s first freely elected president as a coup that they will not allow to stand.
Mr Morsi “is my president and your president and the president of all Egyptians,” Mr Badie proclaimed, thrusting his arms in the air.
“God make Morsi victorious and bring him back to the palace,” he said in the speech, which was partially aired on state TV. “We are his soldiers – we defend him with our lives.”
Mr Badie, a figure revered among the Brotherhood’s followers, addressed the military, demanding they abide by their pledge of loyalty to the president, calling it a matter of the military’s honour. “Your leader is Morsi... Return to the people of Egypt,” he said.
“Your bullets are not to be fired on your sons and your own people, you are dearer than that.”
Mr Badie’s speech appeared aimed at not only firing up his supporters but also at trying to win support within the military against army chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the defence minister who announced the president’s removal on Wednesday night.
Security officials had reported that Mr Badie was taken into custody soon after the military removed Mr Morsi on Wednesday night.
Just before Mr Badie’s appearance, the Brotherhood’s political party said on its webpage that he had “been released.” But on stage, Mr Badie denied he was ever arrested. There was no immediate explanation by security officials.
Soon after the speech, Brotherhood backers streamed across a bridge over the Nile towards the state TV building and Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands celebrating Mr Morsi’s fall were massed. There was some stone throwing between the two sides.
Mr Badie’s appearance came after the military opened fire on pro-Morsi protesters marching on the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo.
The shooting threatened to further escalate Egypt’s confrontation by hiking Islamists’ fury at the military. There are already fears of an armed Islamist backlash, and before dawn gunmen in the Sinai attacked military facilities, killing one soldier.
The army shooting came when hundreds of protesters marched on the Republican Guard building, where Mr Morsi was staying when he was ousted before being taken into military custody at an unknown location.
The crowd approached a barbed wire barrier where troops were standing guard around the building.
When one person hung a sign of Mr Morsi on the barrier, the troops tore it down and told the crowd to stay back. A protester put up a second sign, and the soldiers opened fire, according to an Associated Press photographer.
Several bloodied protesters fell to the ground. One had a gaping, bleeding wound in the back of his head.
Other protesters carried the body into a nearby building and covered his head with a blanket, declaring him dead, according to AP Television News footage. Witnesses speaking in the footage said men in plain clothes fired the lethal shots.
Health Ministry official Khaled el-Khatib confirmed that one protester was killed on Friday and a number wounded, but he did not know the exact number.
The Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, reported five killed, but there was no immediate confirmation.
The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, was hit by birdshot in the head as he covered the clashes. “Am fine,” he reported in a tweet.
Protesters pelted the line of troops with stones, and the soldiers responded with volleys of tear gas. The clashes appeared to ease with the start of mid-afternoon prayers.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “very concerned” by the reports of violence.
In a Twitter message, he wrote: “Hope calm heads will prevail, vital to avoid escalation.”
Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood called for Friday’s protests, which took place at several sites around Cairo and in other cities. Officials of the group strongly urged their followers to keep the rallies peaceful.
But the troops’ use of deadly force is likely to fuel calls for violence among harder-line groups that gained considerable freedom to operate during Mr Morsi’s year in office.
The first major Islamic militant attack came before dawn on Friday in the tumultuous Sinai Peninsula, killing at least one soldier. Masked assailants launched a coordinated attack with rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns on the airport in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish, where military aircraft are located, as well as a security forces camp in Rafah on the border with Gaza and five other military and police posts, sparking nearly four hours of clashes.
One of military’s top commanders, General Ahmed Wasfi, arrived at el-Arish on Friday to lead operations there as the army declared a “war on terrorism” in Sinai. A crowd of Morsi supporters tried to storm the governor’s office in the city but were dispersed by security forces.
On Wednesday, when Mr Morsi was ousted, jihadi groups held a rally in el-Arish attended by hundreds, vowing to fight. “War council, war council,” a speaker shouted, according to online video of the rally. “No peacefulness after today.”
Islamic militants hold a powerful sway in the lawless and chaotic northern Sinai. They are heavily armed with weapons smuggled from Libya and have links with militants in the neighboring Gaza Strip, run by Hamas.
After the attack, Egypt indefinitely closed its border crossing into Gaza, sending 200 Palestinians back into the territory, said General Sami Metwali, director of Rafah passage.
In Cairo, a crowd of tens of thousands of Morsi supporters filled much of a broad boulevard outside a mosque several blocks away from the Republican Guard headquarters, vowing to remain in place until Mr Morsi is restored.
The protesters railed against what they called the return of the regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in early 2011.
“The old regime has come back ... worse than before,” said Ismail Abdel-Mohsen, an 18-year old student among the crowds outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque.
He dismissed the new interim head of state sworn in a day earlier, senior judge Adly Mansour, as “the military puppet”.
“After sunset, President Morsi will be back in the palace,” they chanted. “The people want God’s law. Islamic, Islamic, whether the army likes it or not.”
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