Hassan Ammar, Associated Press
CAIRO — Rival crowds of supporters of Egypt's military and backers of the Islamist president deposed by the army poured into streets around the country Sunday, as a holiday marking the anniversary of the last war with Israel turned into a showdown between the country's two camps.
Several thousand supporters of the military rallied in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, waving Egyptian flags, blowing whistles and touting posters of army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who ousted President Mohammed Morsi three months ago. In a festive atmosphere, a military band in green jackets and off white pants played, and men spun in whirling dervish-style dances.
At the same time, thousands of Islamist backers of Morsi held marches around the city, shouting slogans against el-Sissi as some headed toward Tahrir Square in hopes of forcing their way into the sprawling plaza. That raised the possibility of violent clashes between the two sides.
Police fired into the air and lobbed tear gas to push back several pro-Morsi marches as they neared Tahrir. Soldiers barricaded entrances to the square with barbed wire and armored personnel vehicles. Metal detectors were installed at the entrances and demonstrators pouring into the square were searched by troops.
"The people have one demand: Remove el-Sissi and the president," Islamist protesters chanted, referring to the interim president installed after Morsi's fall.
Violence quickly erupted in southern Egypt, where one Morsi supporter was killed in the town of Dalga. Police opened fire on a march by Islamists after some of the protesters fired birdshot at the police, according to the provincial security chief, Osama Metwali.
Dalga, in southern Minya province, is an Islamist stronghold that security forces raided last month to uproot militants who had driven out local police. Farther south in Assiut province, another bastion of Islamic militancy, police fired tear gas to disperse pro-Morsi protests and arrested seven demonstrators, including three women, according to local security chief Aboul-Qassim Abou-Deif.
In the Red Sea city of Suez, security officials said 12 people were injured in clashes between Morsi's supporters and residents who back the military. In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, police detained 35 Morsi supporters.
Sunday is the 40th anniversary of Egypt's opening strike against Israel in the 1973 Mideast war, a day celebrated every year here as a victory over Israel, though the war itself ended in a stalemate.
Now it has become mired in Egypt's political turmoil. Three months after Morsi's ouster in a July 3 coup, his Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies are aiming to show their cause remains alive despite a crackdown that has crushed its leadership.
For the military-backed government that replaced Morsi's administration, the day was an opportunity to stoke the pro-army fervor that has pervaded the country since the coup. The army ousted Morsi after massive demonstrations demanding his removal, and since his fall, authorities have fanned the nationalist spirit in part to counter the Brotherhood's persistent protests.
That spirit was in evidence in Tahrir, where some of the demonstrators used the occasion to campaign for el-Sissi to contest the presidential election slated for early 2014. They distributed a petition calling for el-Sissi to run.
"If el-Sissi runs he will definitely win," said Omar el-Shal, a demonstrator in Tahrir. "I will support him if he runs because all other political figures faded away after he came onto the political scene."
Morsi was Egypt's first civilian president, following four with military backgrounds whose combined 60 years in power stretch back to the early 1950s.
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