Twelve protesters were killed in clashes with security forces in Egypt Saturday, as the country marked the third anniversary of the uprising that overthrew former president Hosni Mubarak.
Two people were killed in Minya, upper Egypt, during a crackdown by police on a protest by supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi. Another person was killed in clashes in Giza, when security sources dispersed two separate demonstrations, one by a group calling itself the Way of the Revolution Front and the other by Morsi supporters.
The other fatalities were in Cairo and Alexandria, both in clashes with security forces.
Large-scale clashes were reported in downtown Cairo, several hundred meters from Tahrir Square, as security cracked down on protesters chanting against both military rule and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Elsewhere, thousands of supporters of the interim government celebrated the anniversary of the revolution in Tahrir and other squares around the country with dancing horses and traditional folklore music.
The starkly contrasting scenes reflected the three years of turmoil that have split Egyptians into polarized camps since the revolt that began on January 25, 2011, ousting autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak — followed by last summer's millions-strong demonstrations against Mubarak's elected successor, Morsi, that led to the coup removing him.
In the northern Sinai peninsula, five soldiers were killed as an Egyptian military helicopter crashed after being fired on, locals said. Egyptian army spokesman Ahmad Ali confirmed the crash near the village of al-Kharruba and the deaths of the soldiers, but did not provide further details about the incident.
He said a search was underway for the helicopter's crew. Locals said they saw gunmen in a pickup truck hit the helicopter with a missile.
Morsi's supporters were using Saturday's anniversary for building up new momentum in defiance of the military and its political transition plan, despite months of a fierce crackdown that has crippled their ranks and rising public resentment against the group.
Pro-military demonstrators, meanwhile, were turning out in state-backed rallies to show their support for army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the man who ousted Morsi and whom many of those in the rallies want to now run for president.
Security forces also moved to shut down rallies marking the anniversary by secular youth activists who led the 2011 anti-Mubarak uprising and who are critical of both the Islamists and the military. A number of their most prominent figures have been in prison for months amid a campaign to silence even secular voices of dissent.
Police used tear gas to disperse one small gathering by activists in the Cairo district of Mohandessin, blogger Wael Khalil said. One prominent activist, Nazli Hussein, was detained by police on the subway as she headed from her home to join one such rally downtown, her mother, Ghada Shahbendar said.
"The only thing allowed is el-Sissi revolutionaries," Khalil said, with an ironic laugh. "This was supposed to be day to mark the revolution ... I don't get it. Do they think that there will be working democracy this way?"
The days' rallies are taking place in an atmosphere of fear, a day after four bombs exploded in Cairo targeting police and killing six people, believed to be an escalation of a campaign of attacks by Islamic militants. Another 15 people were killed around the country Friday when Morsi's supporters armed with gasoline bombs and firearms loaded with birdshot clashed with security forces.
The Interior Ministry said that 237 people were arrested during the protests.
Islamists held protests in several neighborhoods of Cairo and in other cities, quickly turning into clashes with security forces. Protesters burned pictures of el-Sissi. Riot police fired tear gas and shot into the air, chasing protesters down side streets in Cairo. Two protesters were killed on Saturday in the southern city of Minya in police clashes, a security official said.
One protest group, Students Against the Coup, led by supporters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, called for unity with other youth groups to "struggle against a fascist and oppressive military dictatorship." Secular youth groups, which deeply opposed Morsi during his year as president, have shunned Islamist groups, however.
The pro-military rallies appeared carefully designed, with marches of demonstrators converging on several locations, particularly Cairo's central Tahrir Square — the symbolic heart of the 2011 uprising — and outside the presidential palace in Cairo's Heliopolis district.
The marchers waved Egyptian flags and touted posters, banners and badges with pictures of el-Sissi. A folklore band with dancers in colorful swirling skirts sang and danced their way across bridges over the Nile River into Tahrir, where a dancing horse performed.
"Come down (nominate yourself), oh Sissi," a crowd in Tahrir chanted. Soldiers manning armored personnel carriers at the square's entrances joined demonstrators in chanting, "The people want the execution of the Brotherhood." A military Chinook helicopter circled over Tahrir to cheers from the crowd. Huge loudspeakers blared pro-military songs in the streets.
A large motorcade of security vehicles paraded down a main boulevard in Alexandria. TVs showed celebrations— no more than hundreds yet in every location— in cities and squares around Egypt.
In midafternoon, the crowds from both the military and Islamist camps appeared relatively modest — though they often expand in the evening. Streets remained empty elsewhere in Cairo, on edge after the previous day's bombings.
The Al-Qaida-inspired group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or the Champions of Jerusalem, claimed responsibility for Friday's bombings, warned of more and told citizens to stay away from police stations.
"We tell our dear nation that these attacks were only the first drops of rain, so wait for what is coming," read the statement, posted on militant websites.
The group, based in Sinai peninsula, claimed responsibility for one of the worst bombings that hit Egypt over the past months, including the assassination attempt of the Interior Minister in September and suicide bombing in Nile Delta city in Mansoura killing 16 mostly policemen. The group says it is avenging the killings of pro-Morsi supporters and military offensive in Sinai.
Early Saturday, a bomb exploded next to a police training institute in eastern Cairo, said Hani Abdel-Latif, a spokesman for Egypt's Interior Ministry. He said it only damaged the facility's walls and caused no casualties.
Ahmed Mahmoud, an engineering student living close by, said that the blast shook his building and caused a brief power outage. Mahmoud said that angry residents quickly blamed the Brotherhood and vowed to attack any Islamist rallies in their neighborhood.
"People were saying they will carry arms and kill all Muslim Brothers who dare to pass by this place," he said.
The interim government has blamed the Brotherhood for violence after the coup and has designated it as a terrorist organization. The Brotherhood, which denounced violence in the 1970s, has denied any links to the terrorist attacks. However, the near-daily protests carried out by the group since the July coup often devolve into violence.
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