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Egyptian Forces Kill 6 Protesters During Clashes

CAIRO — Security forces killed six antigovernment protesters at Islamist demonstrations near Cairo on Friday morning, highlighting continued tensions two years after the military takeover that removed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The clashes, in the Giza neighborhoods of Talbiya and Nahia, took place as crowds gathered after morning prayers that signaled the beginning of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Egyptian state news media reported that about 300 Islamist supporters of the Brotherhood had gathered in Talbiya, and that 100 had gathered in Nahia. Both neighborhoods are known for a high concentration of Islamists.

Blaming the demonstrators for starting the violence, the reports said security forces had opened fire on the crowds, killing five in Talbiya and one in Nahia.

In the two years since the military takeover, the police have routinely resorted to live ammunition to disperse protesters.

The protests were among a number of small demonstrations around the country that supporters of Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood held on Friday morning. The Giza street clashes followed a sharp uptick in violent attacks against government targets over the past three weeks.

Militants in Cairo assassinated the top prosecutor in Egypt, Hisham Barakat, with a car bomb on June 29. Less than two weeks later, a huge bomb exploded at dawn outside the Italian consulate, killing a passer-by and wounding others. It was the first such attack on a diplomatic site in many years.

An Egyptian unit of the Islamic State, the extremist group that has seized parts of Syria and Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

In North Sinai, where the army has struggled for two years to crush an insurgent campaign against soldiers and the police, what appears to be another arm of the Islamic State recently tried to seize the town of Sheikh Zuwaid in a coordinated assault this month that officials said killed at least 21 soldiers.

On Thursday, the group claimed responsibility for using a guided missile to destroy an Egyptian naval frigate off the coast of Sinai.

The Egyptian authorities, meanwhile, responded to the violence this week by attempting to put a new stamp on its beginning two years ago. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former general who led the military takeover, decreed a new name for the public square where Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters staged their first and largest demonstration against his ouster.

The square, known as Rabaa al-Adawiya, was the site of a massive sit-in by tens of thousands of Islamists protesting the takeover. On Aug. 14, 2013, the army and riot police moved in to empty the square, and rights groups say that the security forces killed at least 800 and probably more than 1,000 Islamist demonstrators, in the bloodiest episode of Egypt’s modern history. Rabaa, which means four in Arabic, became a rallying cry for Islamists around the world. Many show their support for Mr. Morsi and those killed that day with a four-fingered salute.

After the clearing, the Sisi government erected a statue in the square as a tribute to the soldiers and policemen who helped it clear it. The status consists of two towers of stone, one representing the army, and another representing the police. They bend toward each other around a fragile-looking white ball, which a plaque described as a symbol of the Egyptian people.

This week, the government took another step to put its own stamp on the memory of the square by renaming it after Mr. Barakat, the prosecutor assassinated at the end of last month. Mr. Barakat was one of the most prominent faces of the crackdown that gained momentum after the killings at Rabaa. He led the criminal prosecution and capital sentencing of hundreds of Islamists, including Mr. Morsi.

Around the same time, the government continued to tighten its clamp down on any new political dissent and especially its attempt to control Muslim sermons and teaching.

This week, the government ministry that oversees Muslim worship barred a celebrated reader of the Quran, Mohamed Jebril, from leading public prayers after he used an appearance to speak out against tyranny.

Mr. Jebril did not mention the current Egyptian government, but speaking this week at an important Ramadan evening service at a popular Cairo mosque, he asked God to “protect us from corrupt media, the ignorance of rulers and preachers who lead us astray.”

In response, security officials barred Mr. Jebril from leaving the country and prevented him from boarding a flight to London, the state news media reported on Wednesday.

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(via NY Times)