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Gun battles grip Cairo as Egypt stares into abyss

By Alastair Beach

Cairo has been convulsed by deadly gun battles as the aftermath of Wednesday's mass killings reverberates around the country.

With army helicopters hovering over the city centre and security services marshalling firepower, Egypt looked in danger of sinking into greater violence yesterday.

There was no confirmed death toll from Thursday night's violence yesterday, but officials said that 52 civilians and eight police officers died across the country. The violence spread, with deaths reported in numerous provinces.

"The army and the police are killing their own people," said Mohamed Mahmoud, an Islamist who had made his way to central Cairo for a rally. With machine-gun fire rattling around the central train station, he said that "this is not our country any more".

The worst violence erupted in Ramses Square, the sprawling plaza in central Cairo which had been the focus of demonstrations called by supporters of toppled President Mohamed Morsi.

Other neighbourhoods were also caught up in the chaos.

Allies of Mohamed Morsi had called for dozens of demonstrations after Wednesday's bloodletting – perhaps the worst atrocity in Egypt's modern history.

One Brotherhood leader warned that the level of anger was out of control. The interior ministry, meanwhile,said police had been authorised to use lethal force against protesters who threatened state buildings.

At around 1pm, after several thousand Islamist protesters had reached Ramses Square, shots rang out from the direction of a police station. A boy, perhaps only 16, was raced to a field clinic with a chunk the size of an orange slice missing from his forehead.

Meanwhile in Europe, David Cameron and French president Francois Hollande are calling for an emergency EU meeting to discuss the deepening crisis.

Britons have been confined to their hotel in the Hurghada Red Sea resortbut the UK Foreign Office (FO) was yesterday not advising against travel to the region.

TIMELINE

* August 14: Riot police clear two sprawling encampments of Morsi supporters, sparking clashes that kill at least 638 people. The presidency declares a state of emergency as vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei resigns in protest at the assaults.

* August 15: The Interior Ministry authorises police to use deadly force against protesters targeting police and state institutions after Islamists torch government buildings, churches and police stations in retaliation against the crackdown on their encampments.

* August 16: Heavy gunfire in central Cairo as tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters demonstrate across Egypt in defiance of the military-imposed state of emergency.

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