CAIRO (AP) — Thousands of backers of Egypt's Islamist president rallied Friday in Cairo in a show of support ahead of planned opposition protests this weekend demanding his removal, as passengers swamped the capital's international airport to leave, fearing widespread violence.
The opposition plans to bring out massive crowds on Sunday in protests nationwide, vowing to force President Mohammed Morsi to step down. Across the city from the pro-Morsi rally Friday, thousands massed in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, shouting for the president to "leave, leave,"
For the past several days, Morsi's opponents and members of his Muslim Brotherhood have been battling it out in the streets of several cities in the Nile Delta in violence that has left at least five dead. The latest died Friday from injuries suffered in fighting the day before, security officials said.
Many fear the clashes are a prelude to more widespread and bloodier battles on Sunday. In a sign of the charged atmosphere, a senior cleric, Sheik Hassan al-Shafie, from Al-Azhar, the country's most eminent Muslim religious institution, warned of the possibility of "civil war" after the street clashes in the Delta.
The Cairo International Airport was flooded with departures, in an exodus airport officials called unprecedented. They said all flights departing Friday to Europe, the United States and the Gulf were fully booked with no vacant seats.
Many of those leaving were families of Egyptian officials and businessmen and those of foreign and Arab League diplomats — as well as many Egyptian Christians, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the press.
Both sides have vowed to remain peaceful, and each side has blamed the other for the violence so far.
Tamarod, the activist group whose anti-Morsi petition campaign evolved into Sunday's planned protest, said in a statement it was opposed "to any attack against anybody, whatever the disagreement with this person was," and accused the Brotherhood of sparking violence to scare people from participating Sunday.
Tamarod says it has collected nearly 20 million signatures in the country of 90 million demanding Morsi step down.
The Brotherhood says the five killed in the Delta clashes were its members. Some people "think they can topple a democratically elected President by killing his support groups," Gehad el-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman, wrote on his Twitter account.
The pro-Morsi rally was held in front of the Rabia el-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo, not far from the presidential palace, which is one of the sites where the opposition plans its protests Friday.
In his Friday prayer sermon, the cleric of Rabia el-Adawiya warned that if Morsi is ousted "there will be no president for the country" and Egypt will descend into "opposition hell."
Thousands of Morsi backers filled the street outside, chanting religious slogans. "It is for God, not for position or power," they shouted. "Raise your voice strong, Egyptian: Islamic Shariah." Many wore green headbands with the slogans of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Security officials say three people have died in the past three days in Nile Delta city of Mansoura, along with two others in the nearby province of Sharqiya.
In Sharqiya on Thursday, an Islamist march encountered an anti-Morsi march, leading to scuffles that evolved into full-fledged battles, the officials said. The two sides hurled stones at each other and fired gunshots, and at least 70 were injured. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
In the Delta city of Tanta on Friday, four unidentified men believed to be Morsi supporters tried to attack a mosque preacher during his sermon, in which he called on worshippers to stand with Al-Azhar's calls to avoid bloodshed.
Hundreds of protesters in the nearby city of Bassioun hurled stones at the local headquarters of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. They tore down the party's sign and crushed it, security officials said.