CAIRO – An Egyptian was shot dead as security forces battled protesters throwing gasoline bombs at the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday and President Mohammed Morsi vowed “decisive” police action, a senior medic said.
The 23-year-old victim died of a gunshot wound, said Ahmed al-Ansari, deputy head of Egypt’s medical authority, as police fired birdshot at protesters targeting the palace amid rallies in several cities against the Islamist president.
People took to the streets in several cities in a show of opposition to Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood after the country recently saw its worst violence since Morsi was elected president in June.
Police said they arrested 20 protesters and were filmed on live television beating and dragging a naked man to an armored vehicle, outraging Morsi critics who compared the incident with police practices under deposed President Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi, who is facing a flareup in the political crisis that has dogged his presidency, said security forces will deal with violent protests with “utmost decisiveness” and that opposition groups found to have incited the clashes will be considered “politically accountable.”
A statement on Morsi’s Facebook page said the protesters sparked the violence by trying to break down the presidential palace gates and scaling its walls.
Al-Ansari of the medical authority said 53 people have been injured in the clashes so far. The Interior Ministry reported that 15 of its men had been wounded by birdshot, and that Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim has ordered a probe to “hold accountable” the police officers who beat the naked protester.
The opposition National Salvation Front, which had called for nationwide protests Friday, distanced itself from the violence outside the palace and urged protesters to exercise the “utmost restraint.”
But hours before the violence broke out, NSF leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei suggested that unrest will persist if Morsi continues to sideline his opponents.
“Writing on wall: violence and chaos will continue until Morsi and co. listen to people’s demands: new government, democratic constitution, independent judiciary,” ElBaradei wrote on Twitter.
The opposition coalition is thought to exert little influence over restless activists involved in the clashes.
“The National Salvation Front represents only itself,” said one masked protester outside the presidential palace. “We are satisfied neither with Morsi nor the opposition.”
Scores of protesters skirmished with riot police several hundred meters from Tahrir Square, where witnesses said thousands rallied against Morsi and two were wounded by birdshot fired by the police.
The clashes were not as intense as recent unrest that left nearly 60 dead, mostly in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, which erupted after 21 residents were sentenced to death Jan. 26 over soccer-related violence last year.
Thousands of people protested in the city Friday calling for Morsi’s removal, unfazed by a strong military presence. Similar marches took place in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.
The opposition accuses Morsi of betraying the revolution that toppled Mubarak two years ago and resulted in his ascent to the presidency.