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Residents, police clash on Egyptian isle

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Photographs by AP Photo/Mostafa Darwish

People carry the body of Sayed Tafshan, who died during clashes between security forces and residents of al-Waraq island, on the southern fringes of Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, July 16, 2017. Egypt's Health Ministry said one person was killed and 19 injured in clashes after police attempted to remove illegal buildings on state land on the island. Egypt's Interior Ministry said 31 policemen were injured.

CAIRO -- Egyptian police on Sunday fired tear gas to disperse a rock-pelting crowd of residents defending their homes on a Nile River island against bulldozers sent by the government to demolish illegally built dwellings. The clashes left one person dead and 50 others injured.

The Health Ministry said one resident was killed and 19 others were wounded in the clashes on el-Waraq island on the southern fringes of Cairo. It did not say how the man, Sayed el-Tafshan, died, but a photo of his body posted on social media networks showed chest wounds.

The Interior Ministry, which controls the police, said its forces only used tear gas.

An Interior Ministry statement said 31 policemen and contractors who arrived on the island were injured in the clashes. The injured policemen included two generals, it said. It also acknowledged the death of the islander.

Ten residents were arrested, it added.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as part of a nationwide campaign to retake state property illegally controlled or run for profit by individuals or commercial enterprises, has vowed in televised comments to show no lenience to anyone taking illegal advantage of state-owned property.

He has said the law would prevail regardless of how powerful or wealthy the offenders were. Anyone using land that does not rightfully belong to them, he said, is a "common thief."

But as scores of policemen descended on the island early Sunday, backed by bulldozers, scores of riot policemen and senior police generals, the protesters shouted: "Get lost! Get lost!" The protesters, mostly young males, succeeded in forcing the bulldozers to turn away, but the clashes soon began.

Video clips posted on social media networks showed hundreds of angry islanders, mostly young men, at the man's funeral, marching through farm fields while chanting, "We will sacrifice the martyr with our soul and blood."

In its statement, the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said the residents attacked the police force with firearms, birdshot guns and rocks and that the officers responded with tear gas. It said up to 700 building and land violations were recorded on the island.

Illegal use of state land is common in Egypt, as well as building on agrarian land in violation of the law.

On el-Waraq, a mostly agricultural island with shoddily built apartment blocks, residents maintain that their homes are legal, citing the government's supply of drinking water and electricity.

One of the Nile's largest islands in Egypt, it is home to nearly 200,000 people and is linked to the mainland by six ferries.

"How is my home illegal when you have for years provided me with water and electricity?" asked resident and civil servant Mahmoud Essawi. "It's our land, and we are not leaving."

In a separate development, Egypt's military said its jet fighters destroyed 15 all-terrain vehicles carrying weapons and explosives along with "criminal elements" after they were detected getting ready to cross the Libyan border into Egypt.

A military statement Sunday said the warplanes had monitored and "dealt" with the vehicles over the previous 24 hours, but it did not say whether the airstrikes targeted them while on Egyptian soil. It also did not mention Libya by name, making only a veiled reference to the North African nation.

Information for this article was contributed by Sam Magdy of The Associated Press.

A Section on 07/17/2017

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