Egyptian Republican Guard deployed around Morsi’s palace

A police officer helps an injured protester outside President Morsi’s presidential palace in Cairo.

The Egyptian city of Cairo seemed to be holding its breath Thursday after fierce violence overnight in which Egypt’s divided and angry revolutionaries came to physical blows, with each side hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails and wielding sticks and clubs at each other.

Egypt’s Republican Guard deployed tanks around the presidential palace to prevent further bloodshed between Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi and his secular, liberal and non-Islamist opponents. Thousands of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood backers pulled out of the area altogether, an attempt to quiet a deepening political crisis unleashed Nov. 22, when Morsi issued a decree giving himself near-absolute power in the name of speeding the country’s turbulent democratic transition.

Supporters and opponents of Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi fought with rocks, firebombs and sticks outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Wednesday. A faction of the Egyptian army has sent tanks back into the city, less than two years after the army deployed shortly before Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. By Thursday afternoon, at least three of Morsi’s advisers had resigned over the decree, and Egypt’s influential al-Azhar University, a seat of moderate Islam, was calling on Morsi to rescind it.

At Morsi’s presidential palace, the fragile democratic transition had come to this: Soldiers from the elite Guard units — who are tasked with protecting Morsi — were setting up a barbed-wire perimeter around the palace, where seven tanks and about 10 smaller armored trucks with guns were stationed. Dozens of black-uniformed riot police huddled against the walls of the compound, as some opposition protesters shouted taunts at the soldiers across the barbed wire coils. Crews arrived to clear streets strewn with broken glass and rocks and sticks from the overnight battles that left six people dead and more than 400 injured, according to the Health Ministry.

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