Protesters gather during clashes between supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Wednesday.(Photo: Mostafa Elshemy, AP)
CAIRO -- Overnight clashes in Cairo between supporters and
opponents of Egypt's Islamist leader killed at least five people,
according to state television, as the nation further descended into
political turmoil over the constitution drafted by President Mohammed
The street battles outside the presidential palace
in the city's Heliopolis district were the worst violence since Egypt's
latest crisis erupted on Nov. 22, when Morsi assumed near absolute
It was also the first time supporters of rival camps have
fought each other since last year's uprising that toppled authoritarian
ruler Hosni Mubarak.
An early Thursday report by state television
quoted the Health Ministry as saying five people were killed and 446
people were injured as angry mobs battled each other with firebombs,
rocks and sticks outside the presidential complex long into the night.
fighting erupted late Wednesday afternoon when thousands of Morsi's
Islamist supporters descended on an area near the presidential palace
where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. The Islamists,
members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, chased the protesters away from
their base outside the palace's main gate and tore down their tents.
After a brief lull, hundreds of Morsi opponents arrived and began
throwing firebombs at the president's backers, who responded with rocks.
The crowds swelled and the clashes continued well after nightfall,
spreading from the immediate vicinity of the palace to residential
The deployment of hundreds of riot police did not
stop the fighting. The police later fired tear gas to disperse Morsi's
opponents. Volunteers ferried the wounded on motorcycles to waiting
ambulances, which rushed them to hospitals.
By dawn, the violence
had calmed. But both sides appeared to be digging in for a long
struggle, with the opposition vowing more protests later Thursday and
rejecting any dialogue unless the charter is rescinded.
his part, seemed to be pressing relentlessly forward with plans for a
Dec. 15 constitutional referendum to pass the new charter.
large scale and intensity of the fighting marked a milestone in Egypt's
rapidly entrenched schism, pitting the Brotherhood and
ultra-conservative Islamists in one camp, against liberals, leftists and
Christians in the other.
The violence spread to other parts of
the country on Wednesday. Anti-Morsi protesters stormed and set ablaze
the Brotherhood offices in Suez and Ismailia, east of Cairo, and there
were clashes in the industrial city of Mahallah and the province of
Menoufiyah in the Nile Delta north of the capital.
rival demonstrations outside the Brotherhood's headquarters in the Cairo
suburb of Moqatam and in Alexandria, security officials said senior
Brotherhood official Sobhi Saleh was hospitalized after being severely
beaten by Morsi opponents. Saleh, a former lawmaker, played a key role
in drafting the disputed constitution. The officials spoke on condition
of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Morsi's woes, four of his advisers resigned Wednesday, joining two
other members of his 17-member advisory panel who have abandoned him
since the crisis began.
The opposition is demanding that Morsi rescind the decrees giving him
nearly unrestricted powers and shelve the controversial draft
constitution, which the president's Islamist allies rushed through last
week in a marathon, all-night session shown live on state TV.
ElBaradei, a leading opposition reform advocate, said late Wednesday
that Morsi's rule was "no different" than Mubarak's.
"In fact, it
is perhaps even worse," the Nobel Peace Prize laureate told a news
conference after he accused the president's supporters of a "vicious and
deliberate" attack on peaceful demonstrators outside the palace.
the constitutional declarations, postpone the referendum, stop the
bloodshed, and enter a direct dialogue with the national forces," he
wrote on his Twitter account, addressing Morsi.