Violence ahead of Egyptian elections kills at least nine


CAIRO – At least nine people were killed and nearly 200 injured during fierce clashes in the Abbasiyah neighbourhood of Cairo early yesterday, in a spasm of violence that threw the upcoming presidential election into disarray as several candidates announced the suspension of their campaigns.

For hours there was no intervention by the authorities as the clashes escalated throughout the morning, pitting opponents of Egypt’s military rulers against groups of men the protesters said were thugs allied with the security services.

The battle of rocks and Molotov cocktails left fires burning in a bus station near the front lines.

Several leading candidates in the presidential race, some blaming the military for the deaths, said they were halting their campaigns.

During a morning briefing with reporters, Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, said his campaign would stop for two days “in solidarity with the protesters, and in opposition to the killing and the bloodshed”.

Mr Morsi warned Egypt’s military government against using the violence as an excuse to delay the elections, set to begin later this month. “The elections have to take place at their scheduled time,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a former Brotherhood leader considered one of the front runners, did not say how long his campaign would be suspended.

She said campaign staffers were visiting a field hospital in Abbasiyah where injured protesters were being treated, possibly in advance of a visit by the candidate himself. A launch event for a group formed to support Mr Abolfotoh’s candidacy was hastily scrapped yesterday morning.

The clashes also appeared to have delayed the first presidential debate. Yosri Fouda, a journalist who was to moderate the debate, announced it would be postponed for a week.

The violence followed days of simmering stand-off near the ministry of defence, in what began as a sit-in by supporters of a disqualified presidential candidate, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Islamist. This grew into a broader protest against the military, joined by revolutionary youth groups. At least one person was killed during the sporadic clashes over the past few days.

Security officials quoted by the Associated Press said yesterday’s clashes started at dawn, when assailants attacked the sit-in. By morning the death toll had risen sharply, with doctors in the field hospital saying 13 protesters had been killed. – (Reuters)