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Fears of civil war in Egypt

Protesters, opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, shout slogans during Mursi's speech to the nation in CairoCAIRO — Egypt’s leading religious authority warned of “civil war” today and called for calm after a member of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood was killed ahead of mass rallies aimed at forcing the president to quit.

“Vigilance is required to ensure we do not slide into civil war,” the Al-Azhar institute said.

In a statement broadly supportive of Islamist head of state Mohamed Mursi, it blamed “criminal gangs” who besieged mosques for street violence which the Brotherhood said has killed five supporters in a week.

There was no immediate sign of trouble as Islamists gathered round a Cairo mosque after weekly prayers to show support for Mursi. His opponents hope millions will turn out on Sunday to demand new elections, a year to the day since he was sworn in as Egypt’s first freely elected leader.

“I came to support the legitimate order,” said Ahmed al-Maghrabi, 37, a shopkeeper from the Nile Delta city of Mansoura whose hand bore grazes from street fighting there this week. “I am with the elected president. He needs to see out his term.”

There was a mostly festive atmosphere in the hot sunshine, with vendors selling mango and cakes and banners flying.

Some opposition gatherings were also under way. A handful of protesters watched security men ringing the presidential palace, the focus for Sunday’s Cairo rally. Mursi has moved elsewhere.

The army, which heeded mass protests in early 2011 to push aside Hosni Mubarak, has warned it will intervene again if there is violence and to defend the “will of the people”. Both sides believe that means the military may support their positions. (Reuters)

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