Egypt Unrest Claims 8 Lives as Obama Monitors Protests

Demonstrations in Egypt erupted into clashes, killing at least eight people and leaving more than 600 injured since June 26, the Health Ministry and state-run media reported.

Violence broke out in cities including Alexandria and Port Said, as opposition protesters battled supporters of President Mohamed Mursi. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians plan to stage nationwide protests tomorrow seeking Mursi’s resignation, in what may be the biggest challenge to the Islamist leader since he took office a year ago. Troops have been deployed in Cairo and other major cities.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in South Africa that he’s monitoring the protests in Egypt “with concern” and that his “most immediate” priority is making sure U.S. embassies and consulates are protected. A U.S. citizen, Kenyon College student Andrew Pochter, was among at least three people killed in Alexandria.

Five cases of mob sexual assaults in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were reported to women’s rights group Nazra for Feminist Studies, Mozn Hassan, the group’s director said on her Facebook page today.

Since taking office, Mursi has faced a nation increasingly impatient for the change that the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak had promised. Unemployment has soared beyond 13 percent and foreign reserves have dropped by more than half since the uprising. Growth is near its lowest in two decades.

Mursi’s detractors paint his first year in power as one of turmoil and uncertainty, deepening poverty, sectarian violence, and political polarization.

Signature Campaign

The grassroots Tamarud, or Rebel, movement collected 22 million signatures in a campaign seeking to force an early election, the state-run Ahram Gate newspaper reported today. That exceeded the group’s goal of 15 million signatures, more than the number of votes Mursi won in last year’s vote.

The U.S. military has put Marines stationed in southern Europe on alert in case the violence in Egypt intensifies and imperils American citizens, CNN reported, citing unidentified U.S. officials. The contingent of about 200 Marines would deploy to Egypt to protect the embassy and U.S. citizens in the country, according to CNN. The State Department issued a travel warning urging U.S. citizens to defer all but essential trips to Egypt.

Pochter, the American student killed in Alexandria, was in the city on an internship with AMIDEAST, an American non-profit organization, studying Arabic, Gambier, Ohio-based Kenyon said late yesterday in a statement on its web site. He was 21 and lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

‘Constructive Conversation’

Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman, confirmed in a statement that a U.S. citizen was killed in Alexandria and that appropriate consular services were being provided.

Obama, while saying he would like to see Morsi engaged in a “more constructive conversation,” called on all parties to refrain from violence and urged police and military to show “appropriate restraint.”

“The entire region is concerned that if Egypt continues with this constant instability, that that has adverse effects more broadly,” Obama said in Pretoria, where he met with South African President Jacob Zuma.

Obama’s emphasis on protecting U.S. diplomats comes in the wake of the September attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The Obama administration has been criticized by Republicans for failing to ensure adequate security at the facility.

Mursi’s Supporters

Instead of tackling Egypt’s economic woes, Mursi’s critics charge, he has put the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood at the top of his priorities, appointing Islamists to influential positions. He has spent his time mired in power struggles, including frequent conflicts with a justice system Islamists say is biased against them. Mursi’s detractors accuse his backers of trying to stack the courts.

Tens of thousands of Mursi’s supporters gathered yesterday in Cairo, as opposition protesters met in the capital’s Tahrir Square, state-run Ahram online said.

As members of the Muslim Brotherhood flocked to Nasr City’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque, Egyptian national songs blared from loudspeakers as government supporters sat down for picnics, according to the report. Volunteers armed with sticks were checking identity papers at checkpoints, it said.

Meanwhile, anti-government protesters accompanied by security forces and an ambulance, held up red cards chanting “Down with Mursi and the Brotherhood.”

The Suez Canal Authority said 57 vessels passed through the waterway yesterday and the traffic flow was normal. Forty-one ships passed through the canal today, according to the authority, which is working with the Egyptian military and intelligence services to protect the artery.

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