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Jan 25, 11:56 AM EST

Egypt: 13 killed in clashes between Islamists, police


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AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El-Gwad
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CAIRO (AP) -- Supporters of Egypt's ousted Islamist President fought street battles with police in Cairo and other cities on Sunday, the fourth anniversary of the country's 2011 uprising, as clashes left 13 people dead and dozens injured. Another two people died when an explosive device they were planting under a high-voltage tower in the Nile Delta exploded prematurely, security officials said.

Most of the deaths took place in Cairo's eastern Matariyah district - an Islamist stronghold where police clashed with supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group. Nine protesters and one police conscript were killed in the clashes, the officials said.

The violence underscored the continued turmoil roiling the Arab world's most populous nation four years after the 18-day uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Although small and scattered, Sunday's violence is likely to impact negatively on Egypt's image just two months ahead of an international donors' conference it will host and in which President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government has high hopes for the ailing economy.

Two other protesters were killed elsewhere in Cairo, and one in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Two police officers were injured by shrapnel when a roadside bomb exploded in an eastern Cairo district and six more were wounded in the Matariyah clashes, according to the officials.

By early evening, debris covered the site of the Matariyah clashes and a cloud of tear gas hung over the area, according to Associated Press video footage. Several cars were damaged. One was on fire.

The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said a total of 134 protesters were arrested Sunday nationwide.

Cairo, a city of some 18 million people, appeared mostly deserted Sunday, with many residents staying home to avoid being caught up in any turmoil.

In Downtown Cairo, el-Sissi supporters clashed with critics of the general-turned-politician in pitched street battles. Police later used tear gas and birdshots to disperse the president's critics, who fled to side streets.

The protests and the stepped-up security came as activists mourned the death of a female protester shot Saturday in downtown Cairo while taking part in a gathering commemorating the nearly 900 protesters killed in the 2011 revolt.

Activists and her party blame police for the death of Shaimaa el-Sabagh, a 32-year-old mother of one from Alexandria. The government says it is investigating.

Videos posted online show el-Sabagh, a member of the leftist Popular Alliance party, with other protesters carrying placards and chanting "bread, freedom and social justice" - the chief slogan of the 2011 uprising. She and others carried wreaths of flowers they intended to place at nearby Tahrir Square in memory of the fallen protesters.

In the videos, two masked, black-clad police officers point their rifles in her direction before gunshots ring out. The next frame has her on the ground. She is later shown carried by a male protester as blood seeped out of her mouth. The videos are consistent with Associated Press reporting on the shooting.

Chanting "down, down with military rule!" hundreds attended her funeral in Alexandria on Sunday without incident.

The prominent Hisham Mubarak Law Center said in a Facebook post that five of el-Sabagh's fellow protesters who had given investigators their account of the incident were themselves charged with assaulting police and taking part in an illegal demonstration.

There was no immediate confirmation from authorities of the group's claim.

El-Sabagh's death is the second of a female protester in recent days. Islamist Sondos Reda was shot dead during a Friday protest in Alexandria. Activists also blame the police.

El-Sissi's government has shown zero tolerance for street protests since a law adopted in 2013 banned all demonstrations without prior permission. Dozens of activists have been convicted and jailed for violating the law. A parallel crackdown is targeting supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, with thousands from his Muslim Brotherhood group imprisoned or facing trial.

El-Sissi, who led the 2013 military ouster of Morsi, has been focusing on reviving the nation's ailing economy since taking office in May. His public comments have openly dismissed calls for greater freedoms and the end of what activists see as growing police brutality. El-Sissi says his priorities are fixing the economy and battling a simmering Islamist insurgency.

"You can only deal with terrorism when you have free people, not slaves," Elhami el-Mirghani, a senior official in el-Sabagh's political party, told a news conference Sunday. "And this regime is the biggest creator of terrorism."

Sunday's protests were mostly in response to a call for demonstrations made by an Islamist coalition opposed to el-Sissi and led by the Brotherhood.

They came as police sealed off main squares in Cairo, including Tahrir, and beefed up security at vital state installations. The measures followed the discovery over the past two days of at least 30 roadside bombs in Cairo and a string of other cities intended to be detonated Sunday, security officials said.

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