CAIRO — Opponents of Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi battled security forces near the presidential palace in Cairo in clashes that left at least one dead, threatening to derail a cross-party agreement to end a week-long wave of violence.
A day after the opposition and Islamists signed the pact, demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at the palace walls late into the night, while security forces countered with tear gas and water cannons. One 23-year-old man was killed, according to the Health Ministry. The state-run website Ahram Online said he died of gunshot wounds to the neck and chest.
Another protester was stripped naked by police and beaten. The attack promised to fuel already mounting anger at police who activists say are reverting to the heavy-handed tactics common under Hosni Mubarak. At least 79 were wounded in Cairo and in similar clashes elsewhere in the country, the Health Ministry said in an emailed statement.
Egypt's prime minister said Saturday that the street violence and political unrest that has engulfed the country for more than a week is threatening the nation's already ailing economy, The Associated Press reported.
In a brief statement on TV Saturday, Hisham Kandil also condemned recent attacks by protesters on state property and said no government can effectively govern in the current climate, the AP reported.
Morsi blamed political groups that organized the rallies, and urged them to restrain the demonstrators. The continuing protests in the capital and other cities, though, called into question how much control the accord’s signatories have over street activists increasingly calling for Morsi’s ouster, two years after a mass uprising toppled his predecessor.
“We call on the national powers to condemn these actions and to call their supporters to leave the palace area immediately,” Morsi said on the presidency’s Facebook page, warning security forces would act “firmly” to apply the law. The presidency said Friday night’s events were “not political expression, but rather acts of criminality.”
Al Hayat television showed footage of security forces near the palace dragging a protester, beating him and then stripping him naked before arresting him. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim ordered an investigation of the incident, ministry spokesman Hani Ibrahim said in an e-mailed statement.
The clashes Friday, which also occurred in several provinces outside Cairo, extend a week of street battles that have left more than 50 people dead, starting with demonstrations marking the second anniversary of the Jan. 25 uprising that ousted Mubarak.
On Jan. 31, Morsi’s secular and youth activist critics joined the Islamists in an accord signed in Cairo to hold talks on easing the tensions. Signatories included Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, the National Salvation Front bloc, Salafist Islamists, Coptic Christians and youth activists.
The parties agreed to hold talks on amending the constitution, drafted by an Islamist-dominated panel and passed in a December referendum. Opposition groups say it doesn’t represent the whole country. Another of their demands, for a national unity government, wasn’t mentioned in the text. Morsi says a new administration must wait until after parliamentary elections due in the next three months.
The National Salvation Front, the biggest opposition group, said by e-mail that it had no connection to Friday night’s violence. It called for an investigation, and urged security forces to act with restraint. The group planned a meeting Saturday, spokesman Khaled Dawoud said in an e-mailed statement.
Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 activist movement, said on Al Jazeera television late Friday that his group pulled out of the demonstration at the palace because of the clashes. Another activist movement, the Liberal Youth Front, blamed the groups who withdrew from the protest for “providing political cover” for authorities to use violence, Ahram said.
Morsi and other officials have laid some of the blame for the latest violence on what they described as Mubarak sympathizers and groups intent on sowing unrest, including a nascent movement of black-masked youth activists dubbing themselves the Black Bloc. They have spawned a rival Islamist “White Bloc,” and there are other groups not directly linked to the main political movements.
The head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, Saad el-Katatni, condemned on his Facebook page both the attacks on the palace and “human rights transgression and acts violating the dignity of the citizen.”
“What’s happening now is dragging us into a major disaster,” Ayman Nour, an opposition leader, told Al Jazeera television. “We’re setting fire to our own cloths, to ourselves.”
The struggle between the Brotherhood and secularists concerned by its growing power has left the economy expanding at the slowest pace in two decades. Fitch Ratings pushed Egypt’s debt deeper into junk status this week, while yields on benchmark dollar bonds climbed to a six-month high. The pound has slid almost 8 percent in the past five weeks.
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