Cairo: Thousands of backers and opponents of Egypt`s Islamist president held competing rallies in the capital on Friday and new clashes erupted between the two sides in the country`s second largest city, Alexandria, in a prelude to massive nationwide protests planned by the opposition this weekend demanding Mohammed Mursi`s removal.
For the past several days, Mursi`s opponents and members of his Muslim Brotherhood have battled it out in the streets of several cities in the Nile Delta in violence that has left at least five dead. The latest died today from injuries suffered in fighting the day before, security officials said.
Many fear the clashes are a sign of more widespread and bloodier battles to come on Sunday, the anniversary of Mursi`s inauguration, when the opposition says it will bring millions into the streets around the country.
"We must be alert lest we slide into a civil war that does not differentiate between supporters and opponents," warned Sheik Hassan al-Shafie, a senior cleric at Al-Azhar, the country`s most eminent Muslim religious institution.
The Cairo International Airport was flooded with departures, in an exodus airport officials called unprecedented. They said all flights departing today to Europe, the United States and the Gulf were fully booked with no vacant seats.
Many of those leaving were families of Egyptian officials and businessmen and those of foreign and Arab League diplomats - as well as many Egyptian Christians, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to talk to the press.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria today, scuffles erupted between Mursi`s supporters and opponents, near the local headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The fighting began when thousands of anti-Mursi protesters marched toward the Brotherhood headquarters, where up to a 1,000 supporters of the president were deployed, protecting the building. Someone on the Islamist side opened fire with birdshot on the marchers and the two sides began to scuffle, according to an Associated Press cameraman at the scene.
Nine people were wounded by birdshot, Deputy Health Minister Mohammed al-Sharkawi told.
Security forces fired tear gas at the Brotherhood supporters, but when the two sides continued battling, they withdrew.
Each side insists it is and will remain peaceful on Sunday and each has blamed the other for the violence so far.