(TheBlaze/AP) — Violent protests erupted outside Egypt’s capital on Saturday as activists accused police of using excessive force in two cities and running over protesters, including one who was crushed to death by an armored vehicle.
The violence in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura and the Suez Canal city of Port Said came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo meeting with opposition figures (he is scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Morsi on Sunday).
The U.S. Embassy invited 11 opposition figures to meet with Kerry, but five declined, angry that Washington seems to be supporting President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party.
“John Kerry you have to know that the Egyptian people are angry,” a middle-aged woman sternly told NBC News. Another said: “We are protesting against American interference and supporting a fascist regime.”
The U.S. State Department said Kerry had a telephone conversation with opposition figurehead and Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, who heads the opposition National Salvation Front. Kerry also met with Amr Moussa, a longtime diplomat and prominent figure in the group.
Protesters and opposition parties accuse Morsi and the Brotherhood of trying to monopolize power and of reneging on promises of reform. They also want parts of a new constitution amended and are calling for the formation of a more inclusive government.
Calls for strikes coincide with a diesel crisis that has caused microbuses, taxi and truck drivers to wait in fuel lines for hours across Egypt. The political turmoil has rocked the country’s economy and the government is struggling to contain declines in foreign reserves, which threatens to affect the country’s ability to provide subsidies that millions of Egyptians rely on for survival.
ElBaradei’s Salvation Front says participating in the upcoming election will only further polarize the nation and that voting should not take place during the current climate of violence. Liberal parties have trailed behind their Islamist rivals in all elections since the country’s uprising two years ago.
Since the second anniversary of the uprising in late January, more than 70 people have been killed in clashes with police.
The Interior Ministry, which oversees the country’s police force, said one protester died and dozens were wounded before dawn Saturday 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.
Abdel-Rahman Saad, a law student in Mansoura, likened Saturday’s violence to what happened on Jan. 28, 2011, the bloodiest day of the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak that led to his ouster. The office of the opposition “Tayar al-Shaabi” was turned into a field hospital to treat the wounded, he said.
Activists uploaded videos of the violence online. One video purported to show an armored police vehicle rushing protesters at high speed on Thursday. Another video showed a protester from the overnight clashes Saturday with what appeared to be a crushed skull. The videos could not be independently verified.
Elsewhere in Egypt, a police car in the restive Suez Canal city of Port Said hit five protesters along a main road and sped off, according to an AP reporter at the scene. The protesters were blocking traffic during an anti-government march.
The reporter said that when the protesters refused to allow a police car passage, the driver fired warning shots into the air and rammed into the crowd, hitting five people. The protesters, who are angry with the police, then torched a number of vehicles at a nearby police station, the AP reporter said.
Schools have been closed for a month in Port Said following deadly clashes there late last month that killed around 40 people. The violence erupted after protesters tried to storm the city’s prison in January to free 21 defendants sentenced to death for their roles in a deadly soccer riot.
In Kom Ombo, near the Aswan High Dam, religious tension added to the violence.
On Friday, hundreds of Muslim residents reportedly firebombed and tried to storm a church after hearing that Christians were sheltering a woman accused of converting.
ElBaradei’s Dustor Party concluded by saying the violence is reminiscent of police assaults on protesters during the anti-Mubarak uprising. It condemned what it said was “an excessive use of force” by police and Brotherhood loyalists.
Human Rights Watch said Saturday that Morsi should “order the police to limit any use of force to what is strictly necessary.”
“Neither the Interior Ministry nor the president has admitted any wrongdoing on the part of the police in Port Said,” the statement said.