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At palace, Egypt protesters, police clash

Saturday - 2/2/2013, 6:18am  ET

Egyptian riot police beat a man, illuminated by the green light of a protester's laser, after stripping him, and before dragging him into a police van, during clashes next to the presidential palace in Cairo, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. Protesters denouncing Egypt's Islamist president hurled stones and firebombs through the gates of his palace gates on Friday, clashing with security forces who fired tear gas and water cannons, as more than a week of political violence came to Mohammed Morsi's symbolic doorstep for the first time. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

MAGGIE MICHAEL
Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) -- Protesters denouncing Egypt's Islamist president hurled stones and firebombs through the gates of his palace gates on Friday, clashing with security forces who fired tear gas and water cannons, as more than a week of political violence came to Mohammed Morsi's symbolic doorstep for the first time.

The streets outside the presidential palace were a scene of mayhem for hours into the night.

Security forces pumped volley after volley of tear gas, set fire to protester tents and at one point dragged a protester to the ground, stripped him and beat him. Protesters burned tires and hurled stones and fireworks. A 23-year-old died when he was shot in the chest and forehead, the Health Ministry said.

The march on the palace, where Morsi was not present, was part of a wave of demonstrations in cities around the country called by opposition politicians, trying to wrest concessions from Morsi after around 60 people were killed in protests, clashes and riots.

But many of the protesters go further, saying he must be removed from office, accusing his Muslim Brotherhood of monopolizing power and failing to deal with the country's mounting woes. Many have been further angered by Morsi's praise of the security forces after the high death toll, which is widely blamed on excessive use of force by the police.

The day's unrest, however, risked boosting attempts by the government and Brotherhood to taint the opposition as violent and destructive -- a tack Morsi supporters have taken for weeks.

In a statement issued amid the clashes, Morsi accused protesters of trying to break ito the palace and said "political fores involved in incitement" are responsible for the violence. He called on all factions to condemn the violence and said security forces would "act decisively to protect state institutions."

A day earlier, the top opposition figures met with the Brotherhood for the first time and agreed on a joint promise to avoid violence. That drew sharp criticism from many anti-Morsi activists who said the politicians had played into the Brotherhood's hands and given legitimacy to any crackdown.

The fighting started when a crowd of several thousand marched to the palace in an upscale district of the capital, chanting, "the people want the fall of the regime," and "leave, leave, Morsi." Security forces allowed them to reach close to the main gate, and some protesters hurled shoes and stones through the fence into the grounds. Some climbed on the fence, apparently to better throw stones, but it did not appear they were breaking in.

At first, police and Republican Guards inside did not respond. But when several firebombs were thrown over the fence, the security forces unleashed water cannons, then tear gas, then riot police descended on the streets outside the palace.

Hours of clashes ensued, with streams of tear gas and stones flying through the air as security forces pushed the protesters back. A particularly heavy volley of dozens of tear gas canisters over a few minutes scattered much of the crowd, fleeing into side streets as riot police pursued and the sound of birdshot being fired echoed. Associated Press footage showed police stripping one protester on the ground and kicking him before dragging him into a van.

The Interior Ministry, in charge of police, later said in a statement that it would investigate the incident, calling it "regrettable and unacceptable."

More than 50 people were hurt during demonstrations around the country, the Health Ministry said.

The turmoil was the first significant violence at the presidential palace in the eight-day wave of protests -- though the site was the scene of clashes in November between anti-Morsi protesters and Islamists that left around 10 people dead. But other protests around the country on Friday did not see significant violence.

The unrest is Egypt's worst crisis since the 2011 fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. It was at its worst last weekend, when protests around the country marking the two-year anniversary of the anti-Mubarak uprising turned to clashes in many cities. It further exploded on Saturday, when residents of the Suez Canal city of Port Said rose up in fury over death sentences issued against local residents over a deadly soccer riot a year ago. Around 40 of the deaths in the crisis came in Port Said when security forces reportedly opened fire on protesters, some of whom attacked police facilities.

Morsi, who came into office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president, responded by trying a heavy hand. He imposed a state of emergency and curfews in Port Said and two other Canal cities, which responded with near open revolt. Clashes and protests continued around the country, with anti-Morsi crowds blocking railroad tracks and marching through the streets. The turmoil has only hiked opposition criticism that Morsi, and the Brotherhood, which forms the backbone of his leadership, are unable to manage the country.

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