Cairo: Egypt was on the edge on Sunday as protest rallies demanding Mohammed Morsi's ouster and early elections kicked off across the deeply polarised country on the first anniversary of his presidency, raising fears of an escalation in violence.
The grassroots Tamarod ('Rebellion' in Arabic) movement is driving the protest campaign with a petition of signatures seeking Morsi's ouster and a snap election, which has united liberal and secular opposition groups, including the National Salvation Front.
However, many ordinary Egyptians - angered by Morsi's political and economic policies - are also taking part in the rally. Opposition activists say more than 22 million people have signed the petition and have urged the signatories to come out in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Thousands spent the night at Tahrir Square, focus of the Arab Spring protests which brought down ex-leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The current protests come on the first anniversary of Morsi's election as the country's first Islamist president.
61-year-old Morsi's opponents say he has failed to tackle economic and security problems. Critics also say he has put the Islamist agenda of his Muslim Brotherhood party ahead of the country's wider interests.
In Cairo, anti-Morsi supporters waving red cards chanted: "Irhal! Irhal!" ("Leave! Leave!"). The rallies from the square and elsewhere in Alexandria are expected to move later in the day to the central Sidi Gaber area.
The Suez Canal city of Port Said, in north-east Egypt, is expected to see similar rallies on Sunday. A big stage has been erected in the city's main square, with protesters checking the identities of those going in and out of the square.
There are similar rallies in Suez, Monofia and Sharqiya - the birthplace of Morsi. Supporters of the president are also holding their own rallies. Egyptians have been waiting with anticipation for on Sunday's protests for many weeks - the opposition vowing not to leave until Morsi steps down and calls early presidential elections.
But his supporters point out that Morsi was elected and says he should see out his full term in office, indicating a deep split in Egyptian society. Flags and tents form a base camp on the square from where protesters plan to march on the presidential palace.
In the tense build up to the protests, at least three people, including a US citizen, died in violence on Friday. US national Andrew Pochter was killed in the northern city of Alexandria as protesters stormed an office of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Washington has warned Americans not to travel to Egypt. The UK urged its citizens to "avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings" while France said citizens should "limit movements to those strictly necessary".


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