At least 82 people were hurt on Friday in clashes after opposition activists marched on thousands of Islamists rallying outside a central Cairo court demanding judicial reform, an official said.
The fighting erupted near the iconic Tahrir Square, roughly half a kiolmeter from where the Islamists had staged their rally, with each side throwing stones at the other.
A few activists on the opposition side fired homemade guns loaded with birdshot at the Islamists, who had taken over a main bridge that crosses the Nile River.
Five Islamist protesters wounded with birdshot were carried away by comrades, a foreign correspondent reported. Egyptian Emergency Services head Mohammed Sultan told media at least 82 people had been hospitalized.
Riot police on foot and in armored vehicles had by nightfall succeeded in creating a cordon between the two sides, but ended up clashing with the opposition activists.
A riot police vehicle on a side street came under fire from birdshot rifles as Islamists ducked for cover behind the armored vehicle.
A police officer fired back what appeared to be birdshot from a rifle as Islamist protesters cheered, but an official from the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior later insisted to reporters that police had been armed with only tear gas and blanks.
“The people demand the toppling of the regime,” the opposition protesters chanted — the signature slogan of the early 2011 uprising that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and eventually brought Islamists into power.
“Morsi, Morsi,” the Islamists chanted back, referring to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader.
A ministry statement said police had arrested 19 suspects in Cairo’s clashes, including three young men suspected of torching a bus that had transported the Islamists to their rally.
Islamists and their opponents also clashed in Alexandria, where four people were wounded, the Egyptian Ministry of Health said in a statement.
The statement added that one protester had been injured in smaller clashes in the Nile Delta province of Dakahaliya.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil issued a statement warning that “demonstrations accompanied by violence completely harm the security and economy of the country and hamper plans for reform.”
Morsi’s presidency has been plagued by deadly clashes between protesters and police, a revolt in Suez Canal cities, sectarian violence and a devastating economic crisis, which many fear is bringing Egypt to the brink of chaos.
Since Morsi’s election in June last year, he has sought to face down an increasingly vocal opposition that accuses him of betraying the goals of the 2011 uprising. He has even had to confront unprecedented strikes by the police.
Friday’s violence came days after a negotiating team from the IMF left Egypt after talks over a key US$4.8 billion loan that Morsi’s government hopes will revive its badly hit economy.
Morsi on Friday asked Russia for grain and a loan to help ease a deepening economic crisis, but secured neither at talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian officials said Moscow would consider the request, which a Moscow-based source had earlier put at about US$2 billion, and that it might increase grain supplies if its harvest reaches this year’s target.