Republican Guard gives palace protesters deadline

CAIRO — Egypt’s Republican Guard ordered rival demonstrators to leave the area around the presidential palace today after fierce clashes that killed seven people, and Islamists began to comply.

The presidency announced that the Republican Guard, whose duties include protecting the palace, had set a 3 p.m. deadline for supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Mursi to quit an area they had turned into a battleground.

The military played a big role in removing President Hosni Mubarak during last year’s popular revolt, taking over to manage a transitional period, but had stayed out of the latest crisis.

Mursi’s Islamist partisans had fought opposition protesters well into the early hours during duelling demonstrations over the president’s decision last month to expand his powers to help him push through a mostly Islamist-drafted constitution.

A Reuters witness said some of the hundreds of Mursi supporters who had camped overnight near the palace perimeter had started leaving before the Republican Guard’s deadline.

The commander of the guard, which has deployed tanks and armoured troop carriers to help police pacify the area, said the intention was to separate the adversaries, not to repress them.

“The armed forces, and at the forefront of them the Republican Guard, will not be used as a tool to oppress the demonstrators,” General Mohamed Zaki told the state news agency.

Mursi himself, silent in the turbulence of the last few days, was due to address the nation later in the day, state television quoted a presidential adviser as saying.

After opposing crowds fought long into the night, the streets around the palace were much calmer in the morning, apart from the brief period of rock-throwing between the hundreds of Islamists and dozens of opposition partisans still at the scene. (Reuters)

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