Violent protests break out in Egypt as John Kerry begins official visit

Saturday 02 March 2013 21.32
John Kerry is meeting with opposition figures in Cairo
John Kerry is meeting with opposition figures in Cairo

Violent protests have erupted outside Egypt's capital as activists accused police of using excessive force in two cities and running over protesters, including one who was crushed to death by an armoured vehicle.

The violence in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura and the Suez Canal city of Port Said came as US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo meeting with opposition figures.

Some liberals and seculars are angry that Washington is urging them to take part in next month's parliamentary elections and see US support for the vote as backing for President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party.

The US Embassy invited 11 opposition figures to meet with Mr Kerry, but five declined.

The US State Department said Mr Kerry had a telephone conversation with opposition figurehead and Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, who heads the opposition National Salvation Front.

Mr Kerry also met with Amr Moussa, a longtime diplomat and prominent figure in the group. Mr Kerry is scheduled to meet with Mr Morsi on Sunday.

Protesters in Mansoura and Port Said have been calling for civil disobedience campaigns, or work stoppages, to bring down Mr Morsi.

The Interior Ministry, embattled by months of demonstrations aimed against its forces, called on political groups to reign in protesters in Mansoura who stormed the city's old police headquarters earlier this evening.

Protesters and opposition parties accuse Mr Morsi and the Brotherhood of trying to monopolise power and of reneging on promises of reform.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the country's police force, said one protester died and dozens were wounded before dawn in Mansoura where about 400 people protested outside the local council office.

The ministry said protesters were chanting anti-government slogans before they cut off a main road and threw firebombs at the building.

Activists there said protester Hossam Eldin Abdullah Abdelazim was killed when an armoured police vehicle crushed him to death during the clashes. A funeral was held for him later in the day.

The Interior Ministry suggested Mr Abdelazim's death was an accident.

Mansoura activists say a teenager also was shot in the head and critically wounded during the protests.

Kerry emphasises economy

Egypt's need to get the economy back on its feet is paramount and urgent, and the government should strike a loan deal with the IMF, Mr John Kerry said during a meeting .

The country's foreign currency reserves have dived to little more than a third of levels before the 2011 revolution and the budget deficit is soaring as a sliding Egyptian pound pushes up the cost of state subsidies for imported fuel and food.

"It is paramount, essential, urgent that the Egyptian economy get stronger, that it gets back on its feet," Mr Kerry told Egyptian and U.S. business executives in Cairo.

"It is clear to us that the IMF arrangement needs to be reached, that we need to give the market that confidence."

Washington wanted to support the democratic process, Mr Kerry added.

"We are not here to interfere, we are here to listen," he said. "We are not here to urge anybody to take one particular action or another, though we have a point of view and certainly I will express that. But what we support is democracy and the people and the nation of Egypt."

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