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Protesters turn violent across Egypt

Thousands of demonstrators protested in Tahrir Square on Friday on the second anniversary of Egypt’s revolution.

MOHAMMED ABED /AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Thousands of demonstrators protested in Tahrir Square on Friday on the second anniversary of Egypt’s revolution.

CAIRO — Violence erupted across Egypt on Friday as tens of thousands of demonstrators filled Tahrir Square to mark the second anniversary of the country’s revolution with an outpouring of rage against the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood. At least seven protesters and two police officers were killed in clashes in Suez, the state media said.

More than 250 people were injured in similar battles around government buildings across the country, including the Interior Ministry, the presidential palace and the state television building in the capital. The deaths reported in the city of Suez took place near the provincial government headquarters, which protesters set on fire. Muslim Brotherhood offices were ransacked or burned in at least three cities, including Ismailia, the Suez Canal town where the group was founded 85 years ago.

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In the most striking episode, masked men attacked the offices of the Brotherhood’s website in Cairo, upending furniture, littering the floor with broken glass and papers and smashing computers. Several witnesses said the assailants came in a large group to the third floor, carrying pellet guns and acid to burn through the padlock, and left with computer hard drives.

‘‘They said, ‘We are here to destroy this place,’’’ said Ragab Abdel Hamid, 36, a printer who works for a liberal organization in the same building and tried to contain the attack. ‘‘It was planned.’’

Unknown assailants had blasted the metal doors to the same office with a fire bomb just days before, leaving flame marks, and the gates had been refortified.

The violence — from Alexandria in the north to Aswan in the south — dramatized the deepening chasm of animosity and distrust dividing the Brotherhood from its opponents. Although the Islamists of the Brotherhood have dominated elections since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, another broad segment of the population harbors deep suspicions of the group’s conservative ideology, hierarchical structure and insular ethos.

Those doubts were only redoubled last month when President Mohammed Morsi, with the Brotherhood’s political party, temporarily overruled the authority of the judiciary in order to ensure that his Islamist allies could push through an Islamist-backed Constitution to referendum over the objections of other parties and the Coptic Church.

‘’Egyptians will never let the Muslim Brotherhood rule — over our dead bodies,’’ said Heba Samir, 36, catching her breath by the Nile after fleeing tear gas outside the state television building.

In scenes reminiscent of the 18-day revolt two years ago, the chaos demonstrated more clearly than ever that Morsi and his allies have inherited not only the presidential palace but also the blame for Egypt’s myriad problems. Five months after Morsi took power from Egypt’s interim military rulers, many demonstrators said they had returned to Tahrir Square on Friday because they blamed the Brotherhood for failing to fulfill the demands of 2011: ‘‘bread, freedom and social justice,’’ as the chants went at the time.

But instead of uplifting the society, the revolution has brought two years of turmoil and a near-collapse of the economy. The Constitution that the Brotherhood pushed to a referendum last month deeply divided the country, with opponents complaining it fails to protect individual liberties. In Tahrir Square on Friday, banners demanded the fall of the ‘‘Brotherhood Constitution.’’

‘‘The Egyptian people had so many dreams and the reality on the ground is, everything is still the same,’’ said Mohamed Adl, 41, a teacher who carried a sign with a handwritten poem accusing the Brotherhood of making ‘‘injustice the guard of our lives.’’

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Leaders of the Brotherhood, hoping to avoid the kind of factional clashes that killed 10 people in December, urged supporters to stay away from the square. The group observed the anniversary by organizing community service projects across the country, such as cleaning streets, painting public buildings, or providing discounted produce in poor neighborhoods. Critics said the efforts would also build good will among voters ahead of the parliamentary elections expected in April.

Brotherhood leaders initially welcomed the protests as proof that the revolution had won the right to freedom of expression. But shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday, Morsi issued a series of short messages on his official Twitter account expressing his condolences for the victims killed in the ‘‘repugnant violence.’’ He called on Egyptians to express their views peacefully; insisted that the security force ‘‘will exert its best effort to protect and secure’’ protests; and pledged to ‘‘chase criminals and bring them to justice.’’

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The violence began Thursday in Cairo. In anticipation of the anniversary, protesters began dismantling concrete barriers that had been erected around the Interior Ministry building to contain earlier demonstrations. The security forces began firing tear gas to stop them, and more than two dozen people were injured in intermittent battles that lasted through the night.

By early Friday afternoon in Cairo, protesters at one corner of Tahrir Square — many of them apparently teenagers — had begun scaling the barriers to throw rocks at the security forces massed around the ministry building. And the officers, as they typically do, threw rocks back, and plumes of tear gas rose overhead past a church steeple up the street. As the volleys escalated, a few canisters landed inside a makeshift field hospital in the church, flooding the clinic with choking fumes.

Osama Amir, 22, a student leaving that fight, said he did not know how it started or why.

‘’People have lost confidence in the central security forces, so when there is a chance to beat them up, we will beat them up,’’ he said.

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Soon after dark, the battles of rocks, pellet guns, gas bombs and tear gas had spread. Trash fires filled Tahrir Square with black smoke and closed off several bridges and roadways.

Many protesters seemed to deny that Morsi or other Brotherhood candidates could have won elections, or argued that they had forfeited their legitimacy.

‘‘The big lie is that the Muslim Brotherhood is the majority,’’ said May Ramadan, 37, an employee of the American University in Cairo. ‘‘They are not, they are fascists, and they are liars.’’

Mohamed Animer, 40, a communications engineer standing with her at the television building, said, ‘‘We need to make more chaos, so the army will step in and take us back to square one.’’

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