CAIRO – Security forces and Islamist protesters clashed around the country Sunday, leaving 51 dead, as a national holiday celebrating the military turned to mayhem. Crowds from Egypt’s two rival camps – supporters of the ousted Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, and backers of the military that deposed him – poured into the streets and turned on each other.
Several neighborhoods of the capital, Cairo, resembled combat zones after street battles that raged for hours. Morsi supporters fired birdshot and threw firebombs at police who responded with gunshots and tear gas. Streets were left strewn with debris, and the air was thick with tear gas and smoke from burning fires, as the crack of gunfire rang out.
An Associated Press photographer saw nine bodies lying on the floor of a clinic in the Cairo district of Dokki, scene of some of the heaviest clashes. Most of the bodies had gunshot wounds to the head or chest.
Even as fighting continued in the streets, the military went ahead with lavish celebrations for the holiday marking the 40th anniversary of the start of the 1973 Mideast war with Israel.
In the evening, a concert was aired live on state TV from a military-run Cairo stadium where pop stars from Egypt, Lebanon and the Gulf sang anthems to the army and dancers twirled on stage before a cheering crowd. Military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, other top brass and interim President Adly Mansour attended the show.
The clashes were the latest chapter in the turmoil roiling the country since the ouster in February 2011 of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The new violence is certain to set back efforts by the interim, military-backed government to revive the economy, especially the vital tourism sector, and bring order to the streets of Cairo, where crime and lawlessness have been rife.
The Health Ministry reported 51 people killed nationwide, with at least 40 of them in Cairo, and more than 240 injured. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said 423 Morsi supporters were detained across the nation.
The scene of Sunday’s fighting in Cairo contrasted sharply with a carnival-like mood in the city’s central Tahrir Square, where thousands of supporters of the military waved Egyptian flags, blew whistles and touted posters of el-Sissi. Adding to the festivities, a military band in green jackets and off-white pants played, and men spun in whirling dervish-style dances.
Demonstrators distributed petitions demanding that el-Sissi run for president.
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