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Security forces storm protester-held mosque

By Maggie Michael And Tony G. Gabriel

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17 2013 11:16 p.m. MDT

A Muslim cleric, Sheik Abdel-Hafiz el-Maslami, told said that people were afraid to leave the mosque out of fear of detention or being assaulted by the crowd outside. He said there were armed men inside the mosque at one point but protesters had forced them out.

"We lost control over things," the cleric said. "There were men with arms in the mosque who were forced out of the mosque but we can't control things here."

He said there were ongoing negotiations with the military to enable the protesters to safely leave. State television showed small groups emerging from the mosque by late Saturday morning.

However, local journalist Shaimaa Awad who was trapped in the mosque with the Islamists said the talks failed after three women were detained by the military after agreeing to get out early Saturday morning.

An AP reporter said that thousands of anti-Islamist protesters rallied outside the mosque, chanting: "God take revenge on Morsi and those standing behind him!"

Army tanks and soldiers closed off the main entrances to Ramses Square as soldiers sealed off the area with barbed wire.

By midday Saturday, gunmen took over a mosque minaret and opened fire on the security forces below, the state-run MENA news agency said. The crowd around the mosque panicked as soldiers opened fire with assault rifles, the chaos broadcast live on local television channels.

Several security officials told The Associated Press that ending the standoff at the mosque was essential after receiving information that the group planned to turn it into a new sit-in protest camp. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

On Wednesday, riot police, military helicopters, snipers and bulldozers broke up two sit-in protests in Cairo by Morsi's supporters, leaving more than 600 people dead and thousands injured. That sparked days of violence that killed 173 people and injured 1,330 people on Friday alone, when the Brotherhood called for protests during a "Day of Rage," Cabinet spokesman Sherif Shawki said.

Among those who died Friday was Ammar Badie, a son of the Brotherhood's spiritual leader Mohammed Badie, the group's political arm said in a statement.

Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, who leads the military-backed government, later told journalists that authorities had no choice but to use force in the wake of recent violence.

"I feel sorry for valuable blood shed," el-Beblawi said. However, he cautioned that there will be no "reconciliation with those whose hands are stained with blood or those who hold weapons against the country's institutions."

Signaling the Brotherhood's precarious political position, Shawki said the government was considering ordering that the group be disbanded. The spokesman said the prime minister had assigned the Ministry of Social Solidarity to study the legal possibilities of dissolving the group. He didn't elaborate.

Mustafa Hegazy, a political adviser to interim President Adly Mansour, told a press conference Saturday that the current Egyptian leadership is not in a "political dispute or difference" with the Brotherhood, instead, "we are in a war against treason and some sort of terrorism."

He added that Egyptians took to the streets on June 30 — the day that led to Morsi's ouster — to revolt against "religious fascism."

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, came to power a year ago when Morsi was elected in the country's first free presidential elections. The election came after the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising in 2011.

The fundamentalist group has been banned for most of its 85-year history and repeatedly subjected to crackdowns under Mubarak's rule. While sometimes tolerated with its leaders allowed to be part of the political process, members regularly faced long bouts of imprisonment and arbitrary detentions.

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