Heavy gunfire rang out throughout Cairo as tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters clashed with vigilante residents in the fiercest street battles in the capital since the Arab Spring uprising, part of a countrywide "day of rage" that has seen at least 60 people killed.
Carrying pistols and assault rifles, residents battled with protesters Friday, ignited by anger at security forces for clearing two sit-in demonstrations Wednesday in clashes that killed more than 600 people.
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The Brotherhood also called for a week of daily nationwide protests following its so-called day of rage.
"We call on the Egyptian people and national forces to protest daily until the coup ends," the group said in a statement, referencing the army's overthrow of former president Mohammed Morsi.
As military helicopters circled overhead, residents furious with the Brotherhood protesters pelted them with rocks and glass bottles. The two sides also fired on one another, sparking running street battles.
Unlike in past clashes between protesters and police, Friday's clashes took an even darker turn when residents and possibly police in civilian clothing engaged in the violence. Police in uniform were nowhere to be seen as residents fired at one another on a bridge that crosses over Zamalek in Cairo, an upscale island neighbourhood where many foreigners and ambassadors reside.
The Brotherhood-led marches in Cairo headed toward Ramses Square, near the country's main train station. The area is also near Tahrir Square, where the army put up barbed wires and tanks as a buffer between the protesters and a small anti-Brotherhood encampment in the square.
Security officials told The Associated Press that 52 civilians and eight police officers died across the country Friday.
At least 12 people were killed in Ramses Square after protesters clashed with residents in the area, security officials said. Associated Press photographers saw many of the dead inside the nearby Al-Fath mosque, which had turned into a field hospital. Some appeared to have been shot in the head and chest during an attack on a police station.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Freelance reporter Jake Lipincott spent the day on the streets of Cairo Friday, visiting different areas where protests took place.
In Ramses Square, he said it was "very chaotic, there was garbage on fire and I saw many people suffering the effects of tear gas and other injuries."
He said there were "armed groups of partisans, apparently on both sides of the divide, bothering journalists and bothering passersby."
8 police stations attacked
The violence erupted shortly after midday weekly prayers when tens of thousands of Brotherhood supporters answered the group's call to protest across Egypt in defiance of a military-imposed state of emergency following bloodshed earlier this week.
Armed civilians manned impromptu checkpoints throughout the capital, banning Brotherhood marches from approaching and frisking anyone wanting to pass through. In one checkpoint, residents barred ambulances and cars carrying wounded from Ramses from passing to reach the hospital.
The scenes highlighted how deep divisions in Egypt have become. At least eight police stations were attacked Friday as well, officials said. Egypt's police force was rocked by the country's 2011 uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power and has not fully recovered since.
On Thursday, the Interior Ministry said it had authorized the use of deadly force against anyone targeting police and state institutions. But the threat appeared not to intimidate protesters.
Brotherhood protester Tawfik Dessouki said he was ready to fight for "democracy" and against the military's ouster of Morsi.
"I am here for the blood of the people who died. We didn't have a revolution to go back to a police and military state again and to be killed by the state," he said.
Also Friday, security officials said assailants detonated explosives on train tracks between Alexandria and the western Mediterranean Sea province of Marsa Matrouh. There were no injuries and no trains were damaged from the attack, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Marwa Thabet, a protester who believes Morsi's ouster was a coup, witnessed some of Friday's violence. Thabet said she is not part of the Muslim Brotherhood and is against some of their political views, but she says Morsi was democratically elected.
"I'm never going to hold a gun, I'm never going to be not peaceful, and I'm never going to join a protest that's not peaceful," she said. "But nevertheless, I'm never going to stay home and just accept what's happening.
"It's a coup and we're going to fight back — fight back with peacefulness."
Both sides urged to show restraint
Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, has been in turmoil since Morsi was removed from power by the military on July 3, following days of mass protests against him and his Brotherhood group. But Morsi's supporters have remained defiant, demanding the coup be overturned. The international community has urged both sides in Egypt to show restraint and end the turmoil engulfing the nation.
Wednesday, riot police backed by armoured vehicles and bulldozers cleared two sprawling encampments of Morsi supporters, sparking clashes that killed at least 638 people.
The Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement Friday that the group is not backing down and "will continue to mobilize people to take to the streets without resorting to violence and without vandalism."
"The struggle to overthrow this illegitimate regime is an obligation, an Islamic, national, moral, and human obligation which we will not steer away from until justice and freedom prevail, and until repression is conquered," the statement said.
The group said in another statement that its protests were peaceful.
The revolutionary and liberal groups that helped topple Morsi have largely stayed away from street rallying in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, state-run and private television stations have been broadcasting footage from Wednesday's violence they say shows armed men firing toward security forces. Graphic videos have emerged online portraying the violence from the protesters' side.
One video, authenticated by The Associated Press based on landmarks and reporting from Wednesday's crackdown, shows armoured personnel carriers driving protesters back from an area near the main sit-in as continuous volleys of automatic gunfire ring out.
In the footage, the crowd retreats after throwing stones at the approaching vehicles, leaving several bloodied men motionless on the ground. After a loudspeaker announcement instructs the crowd to evacuate, promising safe passage, a vehicle approaches and the barrel of a weapon emerges from one of its gun ports.
With files from CBC News and Reuters
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