- Associated Press - Saturday, March 2, 2013

PORT SAID, Egypt — Violent protests erupted outside Egypt’s capital on Saturday as activists accused police of using excessive force in two cities and running over protesters, including one who was crushed to death by an armored vehicle.

The violence in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura and the Suez Canal city of Port Said came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo meeting with opposition figures.

Some liberals and seculars are angry that Washington is urging them to take part in next month’s parliamentary elections and see U.S. support for the vote as backing for President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party. The U.S. Embassy invited 11 opposition figures to meet with Kerry, but five declined.

The U.S. State Department said Kerry had a telephone conversation with opposition figurehead and Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, who heads the opposition National Salvation Front. Kerry also met with Amr Moussa, a longtime diplomat and prominent figure in the group. Kerry was scheduled to meet with Morsi on Sunday.

Protesters in Mansoura and Port Said have been calling for civil disobedience campaigns, or work stoppages, to bring down Morsi. The Interior Ministry, embattled by months of demonstrations aimed against its forces, called on political groups to reign in protesters in Mansoura who stormed the city’s old police headquarters Saturday evening.

Protesters and opposition parties accuse Morsi and the Brotherhood of trying to monopolize power and of reneging on promises of reform. They also want parts of a new constitution amended and are calling for the formation of a more inclusive government.

Calls for strikes coincide with a diesel crisis that has caused microbuses, taxi and truck drivers to wait in fuel lines for hours across Egypt. The political turmoil has rocked the country’s economy and the government is struggling to contain declines in foreign reserves, which threatens to affect the country’s ability to provide subsidies that millions of Egyptians rely on for survival.

ElBaradei’s Salvation Front says the vote will only further polarize the nation and that elections should not take place during the current climate of violence. Liberal parties have trailed behind their Islamist rivals in all elections since the country’s uprising two years ago.

Since the second anniversary of the uprising in late January, more than 70 people have been killed in clashes with police.

Despite calls by some to delay the vote, the elections commission on Saturday announced procedures, including an eight-day window starting March 9 for candidates to register to run for the 546-seat legislature.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the country’s police force, said one protester died and dozens were wounded before dawn Saturday in Mansoura where about 400 people protested outside the local council office. The ministry said protesters were chanting anti-government slogans before they cut off a main road and threw firebombs at the building.

Activists there told The Associated Press that protester Hossam Eldin Abdullah Abdelazim was killed when an armored police vehicle crushed him to death during the clashes. A funeral was held for him later in the day.

An initial autopsy said he was 35 years old.

The Interior Ministry suggested Abdelazim’s death was an accident.

Mansoura activists say a teenager also was shot in the head and critically wounded during the protests.

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