Cairo (AP) — Supporters of Egypt's ousted Islamist president held scattered protests across the country on Friday, calling off a planned rally at Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square almost a week after bloody clashes left nearly 60 dead.
Since the popularly backed July 3 overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, his supporters have held near-daily protests demanding his return and sharply criticizing military leaders. Clashes have often erupted between the protesters and security forces and supporters of the military.
On Friday, thousands of Morsi supporters took to the streets in several cities, commemorating 100 days since Morsi's ouster. Police used tear gas and the military fired in the air to disperse a few rallies in Cairo, Egypt's second city Alexandria and in the southern city of Assiut. Seven were injured in the Delta city of Damietta, and a protester died from natural causes in another Delta province, said Khaled el-Khateeb, a health ministry official.
As tension continued, there were no sign of a political solution to break the deadlock, despite attempts by some to find a way out. The protests against Morsi's ouster have coincided with a surge in attacks by militant groups against security forces in the volatile northern Sinai Peninsula and other parts of the country. Officials say some of the militants behind the attacks were allies of the former president's Muslim Brotherhood group.
Also Friday, nine army conscripts and one officer were wounded when an explosive device laid in tunnels near the border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip went off, a security official said. The explosives were left in smuggling tunnels in the Egyptian town of Rafah, along the border with neighboring Gaza, and were set off as armored vehicles drove over them.
The official said two vehicles were damaged in the attack. He said military helicopters later fired at a house and a tunnel along the border in response. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The military-backed interim government has cracked down on Islamists, accusing top leaders of the Brotherhood and other groups of incitement and murder, rounding up some 2,000 members and killing hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators.
Officials and the media have depicted the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies as a threat to the nation, presenting the crackdown against them as a fight against terrorism. In the worst violence in weeks, 59 protesters, mostly pro-Morsi, were killed Sunday in clashes with security forces and civilians as they pushed their way toward Tahrir during pro-military celebrations commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel. Authorities had warned the pro-Morsi protesters from heading to Tahrir to avoid confrontations.
In a more cautious spirit Friday, supporters of Morsi said they would avoid Cairo's central Tahrir square to prevent bloodshed, and in response to appeals from political forces and figures. Still, in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City, troops fired shots in the air to push back a few thousand Morsi supporters after a confrontation between a protester and a soldier threatened to escalate, an Associated Press photographer on the scene said. The protesters backed away from a barbed wire roadblock and soldiers.
An interior ministry statement later said protesters obstructed a prisoner transport vehicle, trying to free those inside. The statement said the police foiled the attempt and arrested six protesters.
The Brotherhood said on its website that one of its supporters was killed in the same area. It was not clear if it was in the same incident. El-Khateeb, the health official, had no immediate confirmation.
In Alexandria, Morsi supporters clashed with backers of the military, prompting the police to use tear gas to break up the fighting. In a video circulated by Morsi supporters and aired by Doha-based satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, an armored vehicle is seen speeding through a crowd of protesters, some of whom fall as it passes. It was not clear if there were any casualties.
On Friday, Brotherhood leader Mohammed Ali Bishr said his group has met with former Cabinet minister and lawyer Ahmed Kamal Abul-Magd, who had before tried to mediate between authorities and protesters in the early days of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.
Aboul-Magd had told media in recent days that he is working to find common ground between the interim government and pro-Morsi Islamist groups, and reach a truce. But Bishr, in a statement Friday, said his group insists a resolution must be based on the Islamist-backed constitution, now suspended, and Morsi must return to office.
The military and interim government however show no signs of diverging from their political road map that entails amending the Islamist-backed constitution and holding presidential and parliamentary elections by next year.
Longtime commentator on the military Abdullah el-Sinawi said there was no ground for reconciliation despite Aboul-Magd's good offices. "The Brotherhood have no other choice than to accept the road-map and apologize to the people and acknowledge that there was a real popular anger that ousted them on the 30th of June because of their errors" el-Sinawi said.
"They are denying realities," he added.
Ashraf Sweilam contributed to this report from el-Arish, Egypt