- Associated Press - Saturday, January 25, 2014

CAIRO (AP) - In large, state-backed rallies complete with dancing horses and traditional music, military supporters celebrated the anniversary of Egypt’s 2011 uprising Saturday, calling for the army chief to run for president. At the same time, security forces cracked down on rival demonstrations by Islamist supporters of the ousted president - and by secular activists critical of both camps.

The starkly contrasting scenes reflected the three years of turmoil that have split Egyptians into polarized camps since the revolt that began on Jan. 25, 2011, ousting autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak - followed by last summer’s millions-strong demonstrations against Mubarak’s elected successor, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, that led to the coup removing him.

Morsi’s supporters were using Saturday’s anniversary to build new momentum in defiance to the military and its political transition plan, despite being hit by a crippling police crackdown and rising public resentment against the group. At least eight people were killed around the country as police descended on their protests, firing tear gas and shooting in the air.

Violence was heaviest in the provinces. A car bomb exploded outside a security camp in the city of Suez, where gunmen clashed with police, firing at some from nearby rooftops, witnesses said. Nine civilians were wounded in the bombing.

In neighboring Ismailiya city, pitched street battles between protesters and security forces were punctured by chants of “down with military rule.” In Alexandria, a woman protester was shot and killed during clashes between police and Morsi supporters.

In a defiant statement amid the clashes, the Brotherhood vowed not to leave the streets “until it fully regains its rights and breaks the coup and puts the killers on trial.”

The clashes competed with scenes of celebration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other major squares in provincial capitals.

Thousands of pro-military demonstrators turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in rallies to show their support for army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the man who ousted Morsi and whom many of those in the rallies want to now run for president in elections expected by the summer.

Long queues of demonstrators lined up to enter the tightly secured-square through metal detectors. Barbed wire encircled the square, and soldiers on armored vehicles guarded the entrances. Low-flying military helicopters showered the crowd with small flags and gift coupons to buy refrigerators, heaters, blankets and home appliances.

“Come down (nominate yourself), el-Sissi,” the crowd chanted. Soldiers guarding the square joined them in chanting, “The people want the execution of the Brotherhood.”

Men carried posters of el-Sissi dressed in civilian clothes. Others raised paper masks with el-Sissi’s picture as patriotic songs blasted from a central stage in the square’s heart. A folklore band with dancers in colorful swirling skirts sang and danced their way across bridges over the Nile River into Tahrir, where a dancing horse performed.

El-Sissi saved the nation. It was up in the air like this helicopter and he carried it to safety,” said Mervat Khalifa, 62, sitting on the sidewalk and waving to a helicopter overhead.

Their rallies showed a ferociously anti-Islamist tone- translating into fury at anyone believed to be critical of the post-coup leadership. In Tahrir, a crowd was seen beating and shoving a woman in a conservative headscarf, believing she was a Brotherhood sympathizer, and driving her out of the square.

They also turned on journalists. More than a dozen journalists were beaten by the demonstrators, or detained by police for protection from angry crowds. Demonstrators chased one Egyptian female journalist, mistakenly believing her to work for Al-Jazeera TV - seen as pro-Brotherhood. They pulled her hair and tried to strangle her with a scarf until police took her into a building for protection.

Security forces also moved to shut down rallies marking the anniversary by secular youth activists who led the 2011 anti-Mubarak uprising and who are critical of both the Islamists and the military. A number of their most prominent figures have been in prison for months amid a campaign to silence even secular voices of dissent.

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