Supporters of Egypt's Mohammed Mursi clash with activists in Cairo
Opposition activists' stage pulled down by rival demonstrators in central Cairo square
For the first time since Egypt's new Islamist president took office, his supporters clashed with liberal and leftist protesters in the capital, storming a stage erected by the opposition activists, smashing loudspeakers and tearing the structure down during competing rallies yesterday.
The melee between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Mursi reflects deep political divisions among Egypt's 82 million people, more than a year after the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Many Egyptians were left stunned by a verdict this week that acquitted 25 Mubarak loyalists on charges of manslaughter and attempted murder during last year's revolt.
Liberal and leftist groups had called yesterday's protest to demand more action from Mursi after his first 100 days in office. The liberals also want greater diversity on a panel tasked with writing Egypt's new constitution, which has been packed with Islamists, including members of Mursi's fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.
Following calls for the protest, Mursi's supporters called for a separate rally to demand judicial independence following the acquittals of Mubarak loyalists on Wednesday. The former regime figures were acquitted of organising the so-called Camel Battle, an incident on February 2 last year when assailants riding horses and camels charged into crowds in Cairo protesting against Mubarak, leaving nearly a dozen people killed in the assault.
Around 1,000 protesters died across Egypt in the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak.
Yesterday's melee erupted after Mursi's supporters stormed the activists' stage at Cairo's Tahrir Square, angered by chants from the opposition they perceived as insults to the president. Protesters were seen with bruises and scrapes as the two camps fought with fists and sticks. Gunshots were also fired.
Meanwhile, Mursi was in Egypt's second largest city, Alexandria, where he pledged that former regime figures would be brought to justice.
He invoked the "martyrs of the revolution", including Khaled Said, who died at the hands of Mubarak's police in Alexandria in 2010. Images of Said's severely disfigured face that had circulated widely online helped galvanise calls for last year's uprising.
"All of the segments of Egypt's society were deprived of many rights" under Mubarak, Mursi told a crowd of supporters. "And the biggest right deprived of us was the right to freedom."
Following the acquittals, Mursi on Thursday dismissed prosecutor general Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, a Mubarak appointee, who vowed to remain in his post, citing a law that protects the prosecutor general from being ousted by the president.