Egyptian protesters attacked

Protesters on the streets of Cairo, Egypt today.

CAIRO — Nine people were hurt when gunmen fired at protesters camping in Cairo’s Tahrir Square today, according to witnesses and Egyptian media, as the opposition called for a major demonstration it hopes will force President Mohamed Mursi to postpone a referendum on a new constitution.

Supporters of the Islamist leader, who want the vote to go ahead as planned on Saturday, were also gathering in the capital, setting the stage for further street confrontations in a political crisis that has divided the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Police cars surrounded Tahrir Square in central Cairo, the first time they had appeared in the area since November 23, shortly after a decree by Mursi awarding himself sweeping temporary powers that touched off widespread protests.

The upheaval following the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year is causing concern in the West, in particular the United States, which has given Cairo billions of dollars in military and other aid since Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979.

The Tahrir Square attackers, some masked, also threw petrol bombs which started a small fire, witnesses said.

“The masked men came suddenly and attacked the protesters in Tahrir. The attack was meant to deter us and prevent us from protesting today. We oppose these terror tactics and will stage the biggest protest possible today,” said John Gerges, a Christian Egyptian who described himself as a socialist.

The latest bout of unrest has so far claimed seven lives in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and opponents who are also besieging Mursi’s presidential palace. (Reuters)

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