As Kerry arrives in Egypt, one protester killed in clashes with police
Violence in cities of Mansoura and Port Said came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo talking with opposition figures ahead of his Sunday meeting with President Morsi.
Activists on Saturday accused police of using excessive force and running over protesters in two Egyptian cities, killing one person who was allegedly crushed to death by an armored vehicle.
The violence in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura and the Suez Canal city of Port Said came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo talking with opposition figures ahead of his meeting with the president and defense minister on Sunday. Liberals and seculars are angry that Washington is urging them to take part in parliamentary elections and see U.S. support for the vote as backing Islamists who are in power.
The two cities outside Cairo have been calling for a civil disobedience campaign to bring down President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group. Protesters and opposition parties accuse Morsi and the Brotherhood of trying to monopolize power and of reneging on promises of reform. They also want parts of a new constitution amended and are calling for the formation of a more inclusive government.
Calls for strikes coincide with a diesel crisis that has caused microbuses, taxi drivers and truck drivers to wait in fuel lines for hours every day across Egypt. The political turmoil has rocked the country's economy and the government is struggling to contain a rush on the U.S. dollar by worried residents as well as a decline in foreign reserves, which threatens to affect the government's ability to provide for subsidies that millions of Egyptians rely on for survival.
One of the country's most prominent opposition coalitions is calling on people to boycott parliamentary elections slated to begin in April for the 546-seat legislature. The National Salvation Front says the vote will only further polarize the nation and that elections cannot take place during the current climate of violence.
The elections commission on Saturday announced procedures for elections, including an eight-day window starting March 9 for candidates to register to run.
Since the second anniversary of Egypt's uprising in late January, more than 70 people have been killed in clashes with police.
Egypt's Interior Ministry, which oversees the country's police force, said a protester died and dozens were wounded before dawn Saturday in Mansoura where about 400 people protested outside the local council office. The ministry said protesters were chanting anti-government slogans before they cut off a main road and threw firebombs at the building.
Activists there told The Associated Press that a protester, Hossam Eldin Abdullah Abdelazim, was killed when an armored police vehicle crushed him to death during the clashes. A quiet funeral was held for him on Saturday.
Abdullah Saad, a resident of Mansoura, said the boy was 14 years old, but an initial autopsy said he was 35 years old. The discrepancy over his age could not be immediately reconciled.
The ministry declined to comment on how Abdelazim died.
Saad, a law student, likened Saturday's violence in Mansoura to events of January 28, 2011, the bloodiest day of the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak that led to his ouster. He said there have been daily clashes in Mansoura since Monday.
Activists uploaded videos of the violence online. One video purported to show an armored police vehicle rushing protesters at high speed on Thursday. Another video showed a protester from the overnight clashes Saturday with what appeared to be a crushed skull. The videos could not be independently verified.
Also Saturday, a police car in the restive Suez Canal city of Port Said hit five protesters along a main road and sped off, according to an AP reporter at the scene. The protesters were blocking traffic during an anti-government march.
The reporter said that when the protesters refused to allow a police car passage, the driver fired warning shots into the air and rammed into the crowd, hitting five people. The protesters, who are angry with the police, then torched a number of vehicles at a nearby police station, the AP reporter said.
Health official Helmy el-Afani said those hit by the car were admitted to a nearby hospital with broken bones, including one man who had a broken pelvis.
Schools have been closed for a month in Port Said following deadly clashes there late last month that killed around 40 people. The violence erupted after protesters tried to storm a prison there in January to free 21 defendants sentenced to death for their roles in a deadly soccer riot. It was unclear if schools would resume classes on Sunday as planned.
Human Rights Watch said Saturday that Morsi should "publicly acknowledge that the police's right to use lethal force is not unlimited — even when they come under attack — and order the police to limit any use of force to what is strictly necessary."
"Neither the Interior Ministry nor the president has admitted any wrongdoing on the part of the police in Port Said," the statement said.