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Egypt police crush pro-Morsi protests on anniversary

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

Egyptian police on Thursday swiftly quashed Islamist protests marking the first anniversary of the military ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, firing tear gas and arresting dozens of demonstrators.

The protests were seen as a test of the Islamists' strength, with the Muslim Brotherhood-led Anti Coup Alliance having issued an aggressive rallying cry demanding a "day of anger" to mark Morsi's overthrow.

Police closed off several main squares in Cairo and scoured neighbourhoods to head off protests.

In Cairo's Ain Shams district, black-clad riot policemen fired tear gas and shotguns to disperse a few dozen protesters who burned tyres on a road.

Police also dispersed other protesters elsewhere in the capital, security officials said.

Thirty-nine wanted activists were arrested ahead of Thursday's protests, and 157 allegedly illegal demonstrators were detained during the day, the interior ministry said.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement was listed as a terrorist group after his overthrow last July 3 and many of its leaders, including Morsi himself, have been jailed.

The ex-army chief who toppled him, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has since replaced him as Egypt's elected president.

Security forces were also on high alert Thursday for further bombings, days after two senior policemen were killed when devices they were defusing outside the presidential palace exploded.

Since Morsi's ouster after a turbulent year in power, at least 1,400 people, mostly his Islamist supporters, have been killed in street clashes and more than 15,000 have been imprisoned.

Despite the crackdown, the Islamists have insisted on continuing their protests with the aim, they say, of making Egypt ungovernable for Sisi.

Militants have launched scores of attacks that killed several hundred policemen and soldiers, mostly in the restive Sinai Peninsula.

- Bloodiest crackdown -

Rights groups say the crackdown has been the bloodiest seen in Egypt in decades.

Among the Brotherhood leaders arrested is its supreme guide Mohamed Badie, who was sentenced to death in a speedy mass trial.

"A surge in arbitrary arrests, detentions and harrowing incidents of torture and deaths in police custody recorded by Amnesty International provide strong evidence of the sharp deterioration in human rights in Egypt in the year since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted," the London-based rights group said in a statement.

The repression has further divided Egypt, a regional powerhouse and the Arab world's most populous country, as a fast-growing population of 86 million stretches its dilapidated infrastructure.

The military removed Morsi after days of huge protests demanding the resignation of the polarising Islamist.

Almost 23 million voters went on to endorse Sisi in a May presidential election against a weak leftist candidate who garnered only several hundred thousand votes.

Sisi's supporters view him as a strong leader who can restore stability in the often tumultuous country.

Yet the Brotherhood, which had won every vote since an uprising toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, still commands a loyal following.

"Let us turn our wealth of revolutionary defiance into an overwhelming power," the Anti Coup Alliance said in its statement on Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, two men were killed while apparently preparing an explosive device in an apartment south of Cairo, security officials said.

In the capital itself, a small bomb went off inside a car near a military installation late Wednesday. Police arrested a man who was in the car, but another escaped.

The government says the Brotherhood has been behind militant attacks, a charge the Islamist group denies.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140703/egypt-police-crush-pro-morsi-protests-anniversary-0