CAIRO — Heavy gunfire rang out Friday throughout Cairo as tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters clashed with armed vigilantes in the fiercest street battles to engulf the capital since the country’s Arab Spring uprising. At least 60 people were killed in the fighting nationwide, including eight police officers.
Carrying pistols and assault rifles, residents battled with protesters taking part in what the Brotherhood called the “Day of Rage,” ignited by anger at security forces for clearing two sit-in demonstrations Wednesday in clashes that killed more than 600 people.
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.
The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, called on supporters of the country’s ousted Islamist president to stage protests on a daily basis, raising fears of continued violence.
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. There were few police in uniform to be seen as residents fired at one another on a bridge that crosses over Cairo’s Zamalek district, an upscale island neighborhood 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 wire and tanks as a buffer between the protesters and a small anti-Brotherhood encampment in the square.
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 upper floors of a commercial building towering over Ramses Square caught fire later in the day, with flames engulfing it for hours. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire at the building housing the Arab Contractors’ construction company, but no injuries were reported.
Across the country, at least 52 civilians were killed in the clashes, along with eight police officers, security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
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 the bloodshed earlier this week.