Pro-Morsi protesters, police clash in Cairo’s Tahrir square

Student protesters gather outside the main gate of Cairo University, Cairo, Egypt Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013 before marching to Tahrir square.  (photo credit: AP/Mohammed Asad)

Student protesters gather outside the main gate of Cairo University, Cairo, Egypt Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013 before marching to Tahrir square. (photo credit: AP/Mohammed Asad)

Islamist demonstrators take to iconic site of secular protests in defiance of ban on gatherings

(SOURCE)  CAIRO (AP) — Police swiftly swung into action on Sunday to drive hundreds of supporters of Egypt’s ousted Islamist president from Cairo’s famed Tahrir Square, firing heavy tear gas to clear them from the central plaza barely minutes after they took it over.

Supporters of Mohammed Morsi stage near daily protests to demand his reinstatement, in Cairo and across much of the country. But for hundreds of them to enter and take over Tahrir, even briefly, constituted a major, albeit symbolic, propaganda coup for them. They would have attracted many more like-minded protesters had they been able to gain a solid foothold in the square.

 It was the first time in more than a year that Islamists entered the central square in significant numbers. The location has been the near exclusive domain of liberal and secular protesters since shortly after Morsi took office in June 2012 as Egypt’s first freely elected president.

The clashes took place as a 50-member panel tasked with amending an Islamist-tilted constitution adopted under Morsi voted on the final draft clause-by-clause for the second consecutive day. When that process is completed, the draft will be put to a vote in a nationwide referendum to be called by Interim President Adly Mansour.

If adopted, a giant step in the roadmap announced by the military when it removed Morsi will have been completed. The next steps are parliamentary and presidential elections by the spring or early summer of 2014, according to the political blueprint.

Also in the background to Sunday’s events was scathing criticism of the military-backed government by a top rights group that called on authorities to immediately release five Morsi aides who have been kept at an undisclosed destination since their arrest on July 3, the day Morsi was ousted.

Police in Tahrir acted quickly and appeared to surprise protesters, who dispersed and took refuge in side streets. After an initial salvo of some two dozen tear gas canisters, armored police vans rushed to the square with sirens wailing.

Later, six army armored personnel carriers arrived. After nightfall, the protesters and police fought pitched battles on side streets off Tahrir and in the downtown area, with police firing tear gas and the protesters pelting them with rocks.

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