Egypt forces clash with Mursi loyalists on "Friday of Anger"

Egyptian military police man a checkpoint in Alexandria's coastal promenade as security measures were tightened across Egypt on Aug 16, 2013, with the country's Islamists calling for a "Friday of anger" after nearly 600 people were killed in a crackd
Egyptian military police man a checkpoint in Alexandria's coastal promenade as security measures were tightened across Egypt on Aug 16, 2013, with the country's Islamists calling for a "Friday of anger" after nearly 600 people were killed in a crackdown on their protest camps earlier in the week. Egyptian security forces fired birdshot and tear gas to block supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi from reaching a government building in the northern city of Tanta on Friday. -- PHOTO: AFP

CAIRO (AFP) - At least four demonstrators and a policeman were killed on Friday as supporters of Egypt's ousted president rallied for the first time since a deadly crackdown on their protest camps.

Security sources said four protesters loyal to ousted president Mohamed Mursi were shot dead in clashes with security forces in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia.

Violence was also reported elsewhere, with state media saying a policeman was killed in an armed attack on a Cairo checkpoint.

And security sources said clashes had broken out between Mursi loyalists and security forces in Tanta, north of the capital.

Earlier, the army had deployed around Cairo, where streets were deserted ahead of what Mursi supporters dubbed a "Friday of anger".

Soldiers manned roadblocks on major thoroughfares, closing off some of them with armoured personnel carriers.

The demonstrations come after 578 people were killed on Wednesday as police cleared two Mursi protest camps in the country's bloodiest day in decades.

The interior ministry gave orders on Thursday for police to use live fire if government buildings come under attack.

Residents of some areas formed their own roadblocks, checking identity papers and searching cars.

The international community expressed grave concern, with the president of the UN Security Council pleading for "maximum restraint" after an emergency meeting on Wednesday's violence.

The European Union said on Friday that top officials would hold an emergency meeting on the situation in Egypt, where the army-installed government has imposed a state of emergency and night-time curfews.

Sporadic violence continued throughout the country in the form of attacks on security personnel, with 13 killed in the Sinai Peninsula in 24 hours.

Mr Gehad al-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman, announced Friday's marches on his Twitter account.

"Anti-coup rallies ... will depart from all mosques of Cairo and head towards Ramsis Square after (noon) prayer in 'Friday of Anger,'" he wrote.

Ms Laila Moussa, a spokesman for the Anti-Coup Alliance of Islamist groups opposing Mr Mursi's ouster, said similar protests were planned across the country.

She said Mursi loyalists, including at least two former members of parliament, had been arrested in dawn raids ahead of the protests.

On Thursday, Tamarod, the protest group that organised opposition to Mr Mursi's rule, also urged Egyptians to take to the streets. It said they should rally on Friday "to reject domestic terrorism and foreign interference."

The international community has expressed concern, with the EU announcing that top representatives from all 28 member states would meet on Monday.

France said President Francois Hollande would discuss the crisis with British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government issued a fresh condemnation of the violence.

On Thursday, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Egypt, calling for an end to the violence and "national reconciliation."

US President Barack Obama said that Washington was cancelling a joint US-Egyptian military exercise.

"While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back," he said.

But despite scrapping the Bright Star exercise, which has been scheduled every two years since 1981, he stopped short of suspending Washington's annual US$1.3 billion (S$1.65 billion) in aid.

The US State Department warned citizens not to travel to Egypt and called on those already there to leave.

Egypt's interim presidency responded defiantly to Mr Obama's remarks, warning that "statements not based on facts may encourage violent armed groups."

Ankara, which backs Mr Mursi, recalled its ambassador to Cairo over the violence, prompting a tit-for-tat move by Egypt.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay called for an investigation into Wednesday's bloodshed, saying the death toll suggested "an excessive, even extreme, use of force against demonstrators."