CAIRO — Clashes erupted Sunday across much of Egypt between security forces and supporters of the ousted president, leaving 51 killed, as rival crowds of supporters of the military and backers of the ousted Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, poured into streets around the country to mark a major holiday.
The capital, Cairo, saw multiple scenes of chaos as street battles raged for hours in some neighborhoods, with Morsi supporters firing birdshot and throwing firebombs at police who responded with gunshots and tear gas.
In some cases, promilitary crowds set upon supporters of the former president, with the two sides pelting each other with rocks.
By late evening, several parts of the city resembled combat zones, with fires burning, black smoke rising and the crack of gunfire piercing the air, thick with tear gas. Streets were strewn with debris.
An Associated Press photographer reported seeing nine bodies lying on the floor of a clinic in the Cairo district of Dokki, the scene of some of the heaviest clashes.
Most of the bodies had gunshot wounds to the head or chest, he said.
The Health Ministry said that 51 people died in Cairo and provinces south of Cairo, and that more than 240 people were injured.
The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said 423 Morsi supporters were detained across the nation.
The clashes took place on the 40th anniversary of the start of the 1973 Mideast war with Israel, a holiday that the military-backed government had wanted to use to pay tribute to the nation’s armed forces, whose chief ousted Morsi in a popularly supported coup on July 3.
The clashes were the last chapter in the turmoil roiling the country since the ouster in February 2011 of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak and are certain to set back efforts by the government to revive the economy, especially the vital tourism sector, and bring order to the streets of Cairo, where crime and lawlessness have been rife.
The scene of the fighting contrasted sharply with a carnival-like mood in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, where thousands of supporters of the military waved Egyptian flags, blew whistles, and touted posters of Army chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Adding to the festivities, a military band in green jackets and off-white pants played, and men spun in whirling dervish-style dances.
Earlier in the day, soldiers had barricaded entrances to central Tahrir Square with barbed wire and armored personnel vehicles.
Metal detectors were installed at the entrances, and the people pouring into the square to demonstrate were searched by troops.
Cairo street battles raged for hours in some areas, with supporters of the ousted president throwing firebombs at police who responded with gunshots and tear gas.
Late Sunday, Sissi and interim President Adly Mansour attended a fireworks extravaganza at a military-owned stadium in the eastern part of Cairo.
Sissi’s predecessor, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was among those attending the ceremony, making his first public appearance since Morsi removed him and his chief of staff, Sami Anan, in August last year.
Tantawi had served under Hosni Mubarak as defense minister for about 20 years and took over the reins of the country when his mentor was ousted in a 2011 uprising.
Anan, who has presidential ambitions, was not present.