Egypt: Clashes break out at Morsi's palace

Egyptians shout slogans during anti-President Mohammed Morsi protest in front of the presidential palace in Cairo.Picture: AP

Protesters denouncing Egypt’s Islamist president hurled stones and firebombs through the gates of his palace gates today.

The demonstrators clashed with security forces who fired tear gas and water cannons, as more than a week of political violence came to Mohammed Morsi’s symbolic doorstep for the first time.

The march on the palace in an upscale district of the capital was part of a wave of demonstrations in cities around the country called by opposition politicians, trying to wrest concessions from Mr Morsi after around 60 people were killed in protests, clashes and riots.

But many of the protesters go further, saying he must be removed from office, accusing his Muslim Brotherhood of monopolising power and failing to deal with the country’s mounting woes.

Many have been further angered by Mr Morsi’s praise of the security forces after the high death toll, which is widely blamed on excessive use of force by the police.

The day’s unrest, however, risked boosting attempts by the government and Brotherhood to taint the opposition as violent and destructive – a tack Mr Morsi’s supporters have taken for weeks.

In a statement issued amid the clashes, Mr Morsi said “political forces involved in incitement” are responsible for the violence and spoke of an investigation. He called on all factions to condemn what he called an attempt to break into the palace and said security forces would “act decisively to protect state institutions”.

A day earlier, the top opposition figures met with the Brotherhood for the first time and agreed on a joint promise to avoid violence. That drew sharp criticism from many anti-Morsi activists who said the politicians had played into the Brotherhood’s hands and given legitimacy to any crackdown.

The streets outside the presidential palace – where Mr Morsi was not present - were a scene of mayhem after nightfall. Police fired dozens of volleys of tear gas at a time, pushing the crowds away from the palace gates.

Flames leaped as security forces set fire to protest tents, sometimes by rolling tyres that protesters had set ablaze into them. Young protesters hurled stones, banged on metal fences and threw fireworks, flashing laser pointers through the smoke.

“People are here for many reasons, but I came here because I want to get rid of this regime,” said Ahmed Hamdi, an 18-year-old protester, who wore thick gloves so he could pick up tear gas canisters and throw them back at police.

He, like others, said he wanted “retribution” – punishment for police over protester deaths during the past week and in previous clashes. “This is a matter of life and death for me,” said Mr Hamdi, who had a close friend killed in earlier clashes.

The fighting started when a crowd of several thousand marched to the palace, chanting, “the people want the fall of the regime,” and “leave, leave, Morsi.”

Security forces allowed them to reach close to the main gate, and some protesters hurled shoes and stones through the fence into the grounds. At first, police and Republican Guards inside did not respond. But when several firebombs were thrown over the fence, the security forces unleashed water cannons, then tear gas, then riot police descended on the streets outside the palace.

After several hours, a huge barrage of tear gas sent protesters scattering and riot police pushed down side streets to chase them. More than 40 people were hurt in the clashes, according to security officials.

The turmoil was the first significant violence at the presidential palace in the eight-day wave of protests – though the site was the scene of clashes in November between anti-Morsi protesters and Islamists that left around 10 people dead. But other protests around the country did not see significant violence.

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