CAIRO (AP) — The Egyptian army deployed tanks and gave both supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi a deadline to leave the area outside the presidential palace Thursday following fierce street battles that left five people dead and more than 600 injured in the worst outbreak of violence between the two sides since the Islamist leader's election.
The intensity of the overnight violence, with Morsi's Islamist backers and largely secular protesters lobbing firebombs and rocks at each other, signaled a possible turning point in the 2-week-old crisis over the president's assumption of near-absolute powers and the hurried adoption of a draft constitution.
Opposition activists defiantly called for another protest outside the palace later Thursday, raising the specter of more bloodshed as neither side showed willingness to back down.
But the army's Republican Guard, an elite unit assigned to protect the president and his palaces, gave protesters on both sides until 3 p.m. (1300 GMT, 8 a.m. EDT) to clear the vicinity, according to an official statement. The statement also announced a ban on protests outside any of the nation's presidential palaces.
Morsi was in the palace Thursday conducting business as usual, according to a presidential official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to address the media.
Egypt has seen sporadic clashes throughout nearly two years of political turmoil after the ouster of autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak. But Wednesday's street battles were the worst between Morsi's supporters and followers and came after an implicit call by the Muslim Brotherhood for its members to go to the palace and evict anti-Morsi protesters who had camped out there.
Unlike Mubarak, Morsi was elected in June after a narrow victory in Egypt's first free presidential elections, but many activists who supported him have jumped to the opposition after he issued decrees on Nov. 22 that put him above oversight and a draft charter was later rushed through by his Islamist allies despite a walkout by Christian and liberal factions.