Wave of terrorist attacks rocks Egypt on third anniversary of revolution
CAIRO - Deadly clashes erupted in Egypt Saturday as rival demonstrations were held on the anniversary of the 2011 revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak, underscoring the country's violent polarisation three years after the Arab Spring.
Thousands of demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square chanted slogans backing military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and called for Muslim Brotherhood members to be killed, as Islamists staged their own smaller rallies elsewhere, sparking clashes with police.
The divisions underscored the bitter polarisation since the 2011 revolt, in which Egyptians of all political stripes united to demand the end of Mubarak's three-decade rule, galvanising the Arab Spring.
At least four people were killed nationwide when police and supporters of the military-installed government clashed with Islamist backers of president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in July after a single turbulent year in power.
Egypt is on edge as a car bomb struck a police base in the Egyptian canal city of Suez on Saturday, wounding at least nine people in an attack earlier blamed on a rocket.
The booby-trapped car exploded on a street next to the base, General Abdel Fattah Othman told the private ONTV television.
A police spokesman had earlier said a rocket caused the explosion. The health ministry said the attack wounded nine people.
A police official said the car had been placed next to the wall of the base and wounded civilian passersby.
The explosion came the day after four bombings targeted police in Cairo, killing six people, and amid heightened tensions on the anniversary of the start of the 2011 revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Hours before Saturday's rallies, a small bomb outside a police training centre in north Cairo wounded one person, the health ministry said.
An Al-Qaeda-inspired group -- Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem -- claimed responsibility for Friday's bombings, all of them targeting police, and urged ordinary Egyptian "Muslims" to stay away from police buildings.
Police deployed across Cairo as supporters of Morsi launched small counter-demonstrations to the commemorations called by the authorities, which were concentrated in Tahrir, epicentre of the 2011 revolt.
Police fired tear gas and birdshot to disperse one protest outside a Cairo mosque, a correspondent reported.
One person was killed in clashes in greater Cairo and three in the province of Minya to the south, after 15 people were killed nationwide in similar clashes on Friday, according to the health ministry.
Police have vowed to halt all such demonstrations.
But they have encouraged Egyptians to turn out in support of the government, and some politicians called for rallies to back Sisi, the general who overthrew Morsi and whose popularity has skyrocketed among Egyptians craving stability after three years of turmoil.
In the restive Sinai Peninsula, meanwhile, five Egyptian soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash, medics said.
The military said it was investigating the cause of Saturday's crash in a region that has seen escalating militant attacks targeting the military and security forces.
Mubarak was forced to step down on February 11, 2011 after 18 days of demonstrations that left some 850 people dead, ending his three-decade rule of the Arab world's most populous country.
The military took power until Morsi's election in June 2012, but then toppled him a year later, in July, after millions took to the streets demanding his resignation, accusing him of betraying the "revolution" that toppled Mubarak.
In Tahrir on Saturday, tanks guarded the entrances to the square as some demonstrators waved Egyptian flags and carried posters of Sisi.
"The people demand the execution of the Brotherhood," demonstrators chanted, as several took their pictures with police officers, soldiers and tanks.
Government and military officials have hinted for days that the turnout at Saturday's pro-government rallies could be a bellwether for a run by Sisi in a presidential election promised for later this year.
Sisi is widely seen as a strongman who can restore order and fight militancy, which the interim government blames on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood, which renounced violence decades ago and won a series of elections following Mubarak's overthrow, condemned Friday's bomb blasts, as they have previous attacks on the police and army.
But following a previous attack on a police building in December, also claimed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the authorities declared the Brotherhood a "terrorist organisation", making even expressions of verbal support punishable by heavy prison sentences.