Clashes in Cairo as religious group tries to broker talks
Supporters and opponents of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Mursi battled in downtown Cairo's streets yesterday, hurling rocks at each other as police fired volleys of tear gas.
The violence erupted as a proposal by al-Azhar, Egypt's leading religious authority, to bring together adversaries in the political crisis appeared to inch forward.
Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood said it was ready take part in talks as long as they were on the right terms. But the clashes showed the country was still dangerously divided six weeks after the army overthrew Mursi.
Brotherhood protest camps at Cairo's al-Nahda Square and around Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque are the immediate focus of the crisis. Mursi supporters stood their ground behind barricades yesterday while Egypt's interim leaders debated how to end their sit-in.
No police crackdown appeared imminent despite frequent warnings from the army-installed government that the protesters should pack up and leave peacefully. But clashes broke out in central Cairo when a few thousand Mursi supporters marched to the Interior Ministry.
Pro-army residents and shop-workers taunted them, calling them terrorists and saying they were not welcome. They then threw stones at the marchers, getting showered back in return.
Some hurled bottles at the Mursi supporters from balconies. Police then fired tear gas at the demonstrators. Women and children marchers fled the scene in panic. The clashes spread to several streets and brought Cairo traffic to a standstill.
"There's no going forward with negotiations, the only way is back. Mursi must be reinstated," said Karim Ahmed, a student waving a picture of Mursi as he flung rocks at a ministry building.
The Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour party, Egypt's second largest Islamist party, both suggested they would be willing to join a meeting called by al-Azhar, whose initiative is the only known effort to end the crisis peacefully following the collapse of international mediation.
"If they stick to the rules we're asking for, yes," Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad said, adding that talks must be based on the "restoration of constitutional legitimacy".
Nour Party head Younes Makhyoun said his party had been invited to the al-Azhar talks.
"The noble al-Azhar is trying to bring together for discussions those who have drawn up initiatives to agree, for example, on one initiative and vision, which we will use to pressure all the parties, so they accept it," he said.