Egypt’s Republican Guard restored order around the presidential palace on Thursday, deploying tanks after fierce overnight clashes killed seven people, but passions ran high in a struggle over the country’s future.
Thousands of supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Mursi clashed overnight. Running street battles outside the Itihadiya palace in northern Cairo also wounded 644 people, many from birdshot, the health ministry reported.
Six of the dead were Mursi supporters, the Muslim Brotherhood said.
By Thursday morning, the Republican Guard, the division tasked with protecting the presidency, deployed at least 10 tanks and troops outside the palace, an AFP correspondent said. Dozens of Mursi’s foes were kept away by a barbed wire barricade guarded by tanks.
Republican Guard chief General Mohammed Zaki said the tanks were deployed to separate warring protesters, and pledged that the military “will not be an instrument of oppression against protesters.”
“The armed forces, and at the forefront of them the Republican Guard, will not be used as a tool to oppress the demonstrators,” Zaki told the state news agency.
Hussein Abdel Ghani, spokesman of the opposition National Salvation Front, said more protests were planned, but not necessarily at the palace in Cairo’s Heliopolis district.
“Our youth are leading us today and we decided to agree to whatever they want to do,” he told Reuters.
Four Mursi advisers have resigned over the crisis, official news agency MENA reported, and the head of state television has also quit in protest, the independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm reported on its website.
A senior presidential aide told AFP Mursi was expected to make a speech later in the day to reach out to the opposition, but no time was announced for the address.
The overnight violence also spread beyond the capital, with protesters torching Muslim Brotherhood offices in the Mediterranean port city of Ismailiya and in Suez, witnesses said.
The Brotherhood urged protesters on both sides to withdraw, as did Prime Minister Hisham Kandil.
The Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood, to which Mursi belonged before he was narrowly elected president in June, appealed for unity.
Divisions among Egyptians “only serve the nation’s enemies,” Mohamed Badie said in a statement.
Rival factions used rocks, petrol bombs and guns in the clashes around the presidential palace.
“We came here to support President Mursi and his decisions. He is the elected president of Egypt,” said demonstrator Emad Abou Salem, 40.
“He has legitimacy and nobody else does.”