Update: Four reported dead in presidential palace clashes

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood started to pull out of the area surrounding the presidential palace late Wednesday night, state-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported.

Clashes had spread earlier to more streets in Heliopolis as security forces tried to restore calm to the area surrounding the presidential palace, after at least four people reportedly died in clashes between protesters against the new constitution and Brotherhood supporters.

ONTV presenter Yousri Fouda reported that Mohamed Essam and Karam Gergis had died in the clashes, saying this was confirmed by the Popular Current.

Earlier Wednesday, Amr Zaky of the Freedom and Justice Party said that a young Muslim Brotherhood member died in the clashes, and Amer al-Wekil, general coordinator of Egypt’s Alliance of Revolutionaries, told the Middle East News Agency that a woman died as well.

Wekil urged the president, the Interior Ministry and the Armed Forces to intervene to break up the clashes and save the country from discord.

Mahmoud Gozlan, the spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, called on all protesters to withdraw from the area surrounding the presidential palace and pledge to go back there, AFP reported.

Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that clashes erupted between pro- and anti-Morsy protesters on Khalifa al-Maamon Street. Protesters used Molotov cocktails, birdshots and stones against each other. The newspaper also reported that security forces dispersed protesters at Roxy Square.

Prime Minister Hesham Qandil called for calm and the Interior Ministry dispatched security personnel to break up the clashes.

Qandil asked protesters outside the presidential palace in Heliopolis to evacuate the area surrounding the presidential palace immediately, so calm could be restored. Qandil demanded that protesters give a chance for the ongoing efforts to launch a national dialogue to end the current political standoff.

Protesters had gathered at the palace on Tuesday to protest Morsy’s constitutional declaration, which gave him sweeping powers. On Wednesday, a sit-in that had stayed behind was overrun by supporters of the president, according to the website of the state-owned daily Al-Ahram.

The Interior Ministry sent 3,000 security recruits to the presidential palace late Wednesday night to break up clashes between supporters and opponents President Morsy.

The forces used tear gas grenades to disperse the protests.

A security officer, speaking on condition of anonymity to Al-Masry Al-Youm, said the original instructions were not to deal with the demonstrators unless they attacked the presidential palace, but after the clashes erupted, new instructions came from the ministry to disperse the fight with tear gas.

The officer added that he saw bladed weapons and shotguns, but could not arrest those wielding the weapons, so as not to increase the heated atmosphere.

The Interior Ministry had said in a statement earlier Wednesday that the Central Security Forces were trying to establish a cordon between the protesters and the presidential palace, but clashes were ongoing in the area.

Deputy head of the Freedom and Justice Party Essam al-Erian said the events “are not clashes between supporters and opponents, but rather skirmishes between the guardians of legitimacy and the revolution against the counterrevolutionary attempts to topple legitimacy.”

“There are thugs who want to depose the elected president,” Erian said, demanding that citizens “besiege those thugs and expose the third party, and those firing live ammunition.”

Eyewitnesses told Al-Masry Al-Youm that security forces assaulted anti-Morsy protesters and arrested dozens of them on Wednesday evening.

Numerous protesters are suffering from head injuries as a result of stone throwing, eyewitnesses said.

Health Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Omar said that the injuries varied between cuts, bruises and suspected fractures, and that the patients would be released as soon as they are stable.

Marghany Street, the main front line, was the scene of a warzone, with fighting spilling over onto Khalifa al-Maamon. Eyewitnesses there said Morsy supporters outnumbered opponents. The two sides were fighting with no security intervention, though the area had some military police posts, which were empty at the time.

Eyewitnesses have reported use of pellets and birdshots, as well as consistent sounds of gunshots.

Some residents in the area attempted to flee into their houses, but they feared fires would start.

State-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported that the clashes started when Morsy’s supporters threw Molotov cocktails at members of the ultras, and targeted them with birdshots. The state mouthpiece added that the ultras responded by throwing stones and fireworks.

Security forces and ambulances were almost absent from the area, the paper added.

Privately-owned TV channel Al-Nahar, in live reports from the scene, said that Morsy supporters boxed opposition protesters in from two sides, leading to scuffles.

The clashes came after both the Popular Current, led by former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, and the Muslim Brotherhood called for rival demonstrations outside the presidential palace Wednesday, raising the specter of clashes between both sides. Anti-Morsy protesters had begun a sit-in the night before after holding a mass demonstration.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau announced on Wednesday that its members would also start a sit-in in front of the presidential palace until the constitutional referendum is successfully held.

The Brotherhood demonstrators planned to rally there to support Morsy, and his decision to put the constitution for a referendum, according to a statement, which also called for a “general mobilization” among youth in support of the sit-in.

Erian said Wednesday, “Egyptian people will flood to squares in all governorates, especially at the presidential palace, to protect legitimacy.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the website of state-run Al-Ahram newspaper quoted a Jama’a al-Islamiya source as saying that various Islamist factions will gather at the palace to support Morsy. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, the Salafi-oriented Nour Party and Jama’a al-Islamiya’s Construction and Development Party are among the groups that will participate, according to Al-Ahram.

The Brotherhood’s earlier call for protests, with anti-Morsy protesters already staging a sit-in outside the palace, drew condemnations and warnings from opposing political parties.

Former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, who is also chairman of the Congress Party, denounced the Brotherhood’s call for protests.

“Clashes with other protesters over differences in opinion will further heat up the situation,” Moussa tweeted on Wednesday.

In a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page, Brotherhood spokesperson Mahmoud Ghozlan said that the calls for demonstrations were meant to “protect the legitimacy after the brute infringements conducted on Tuesday by a group that thought they could shake legitimacy or impose their opinion by force.”

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