Anti-riot police fired tear gas yesterday to disperse protesters camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as Western governments voiced growing concern over Islamist Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s assumption of sweeping powers.
A hard core of opposition activists had spent the night in the iconic protest hub — epicenter of the popular uprising that toppled veteran strongman former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last year — erecting about 30 tents, one correspondent reported.
However, when more demonstrators attempted to join them in the morning, police responded with volleys of tear gas, forcing them to retreat into the surrounding streets.
By midday, small groups of protesters continued to occupy the square, where traffic in the normally busy thoroughfare was almost brought to a halt.
Opposition-led protests were held in most of Egypt’s major cities on Friday, sparking violent clashes in the canal city of Suez and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, where offices of the Islamist Freedom and Justice Party, which backed Morsi for the presidency, were torched.
The mainly secular liberal activists voiced determination to keep up the momentum of their protests against Morsi’s decree on Thursday which placed his decisions beyond judicial scrutiny, vastly adding to his power.
They called for a new mass protest in Tahrir for Tuesday.
“Egypt is at the start of a new revolution because it was never our intention to replace one dictator with another,” activist Mohammed al-Gamal said, showing his broken spectacles and hand in a plaster cast that he said were the result of the police action.
Washington, which only on Wednesday had voiced fulsome praise for Morsi’s role in brokering a truce between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers to end eight days of deadly violence, led international criticism of the Islamist president’s move.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups were also out in strength on Friday in a show of support for the president in his move to prevent the courts from dissolving the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly and upper house of parliament as they have already done to the lower house.
Clashes broke out between the rival supporters in several cities, correspondents and state television reported.