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5 Mar, 2013 14:12

Egypt’s Morsi ‘mulling’ army takeover of restive Port Said

Egypt’s Morsi ‘mulling’ army takeover of restive Port Said

Clashes continue in Port Said as security forces fired shots into the air and deployed teargas to disperse hundreds of protesters. Egypt’s president ordered police to withdraw from the streets, leaving the army to restore order in the city.

At least 50 people were wounded in the third day of clashes in the country, Reuters news agency reported.

Hundreds of protesters massed near the Port Said Security Directorate and lobbed stones and firebombs at security forces, who responded by firing teargas and warning shots into the air.

Earlier in the day, a group of protesters fell on the port city’s branch of the National Security Agency, setting the building’s garage on fire with Molotov cocktails. Armed Forces vehicles were deployed to the scene, which proceeded to fire live shots to disperse the demonstrators.

A tank was later stationed outside the building, while armored vehicles patrolled the surrounding neighborhood.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi ordered police forces to withdraw following three weeks of strikes and protests in the city which boiled over on Sunday.

The president is considering whether to give the military full control of the restive Suez Canal city, officials said on Tuesday. This might come in the wake of riot police getting accused of excessive use of force as well as reports of rising tensions between the army and police.

The military was called in to restore order in Port Said on Sunday as clashes left three police officers and three protesters dead. Troops attempting to halt the fighting between police and protesters were reportedly swamped by teargas, and one army colonel was wounded by live fire. At one point, the army fired live rounds over the heads of the police, a move which was met with cheers from protesters.

Egyptian protesters gather outside the main security headquarters in the canal city of Port Said early on March 5, 2013. (AFP Photo)

A protester, who opposes Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, shows empty teargas canisters during clashes with riot police in front of Security Directorate of Port Said after protesters started to set fire to it in Port Said city, 170 km (106 miles) northeast of Cairo March 5, 2013. (Reuters / Amr Dalsh)

At least 586 people have been injured in the latest round of violence, 16 of whom were hit with live rounds and another 27 with birdshot, Ahmed Sultan, head of emergency services, told AFP.

Port Said, which extends along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast north of the Suez Canal, has been the scene of regular street battles since a court issued death sentences against 21 people implicated in a deadly February 2012 soccer riot, which left 72 people dead.

The verdict ignited fierce clashes between protesters and police which left more than 40 dead, including two police officers.

The latest spate of violence was ignited when Egypt’s Interior Ministry decided to transfer dozens of prisoners charged over the soccer riots out of the city in order to avoid more confrontations.

The second phase of the Port Said trial set to commence on Saturday, as the remaining 39 defendants will be issued verdicts in the case.

An army soldier (front) and protesters, who oppose Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, flee from teargas fired by riot police during clashes in front of Security Directorate of Port Said after protesters started to set fire to it in Port Said city, 170 km (106 miles) northeast of Cairo March 5, 2013. (Reuters / Amr Dalsh)

Protesters hurled petrol bombs and stones at police officers who responded by firing teargas. (Reuters / Amr Dalsh)