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CAIRO (AP) — Thousands of backers and opponents of Egypt's Islamist president held competing rallies in the capital Friday and new clashes erupted between the two sides in the country's second largest city, Alexandria, in a prelude to massive nationwide protests planned by the opposition this weekend demanding Mohammed Morsi's removal.

For the past several days, Morsi's opponents and members of his Muslim Brotherhood have battled 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 sign of more widespread and bloodier battles to come on Sunday, the anniversary of Morsi's inauguration, when the opposition says it will bring millions into the streets around the country.

"We must be alert lest we slide into a civil war that does not differentiate between supporters and opponents," warned Sheik Hassan al-Shafie, a senior cleric at Al-Azhar, the country's most eminent Muslim religious institution.

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.

In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria on Friday, scuffles erupted between Morsi's supporters and opponents, near the local headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The fighting began when thousands of anti-Morsi protesters marched toward the Brotherhood headquarters, where up to a 1,000 supporters of the president were deployed, protecting the building. Someone on the Islamist side opened fire with birdshot on the marchers and the two sides began to scuffle, according to an Associated Press cameraman at the scene.

Nine people were wounded by birdshot, Deputy Health Minister Mohammed al-Sharkawi told AP.

Security forces fired tear gas at the Brotherhood supporters, but when the two sides continued battling, they withdrew.

Each side insists it is and will remain peaceful on Sunday — and each 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.

In Cairo, thousands of Morsi backers filled the street outside the Rabia el-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo, not far from the presidential palace. The palace — one of the sites where the opposition plans to hold rallies Sunday — has been surrounded by concrete walls.

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."

Outside in the street, the Islamists chanted 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.

Across the city, thousands of Morsi opponents massed in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, shouting for the president to "leave, leave."

Violence erupted in several parts of the Delta, north of Cairo.

At least six people were injured when an anti-Morsi march was attacked by the president's supporters in the city of Samanod, according to a security official. Attackers fired gunshots and threw acid at the protesters as they passed the house of a local Brotherhood leader, the official said.

In the Delta city of Tanta, 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.

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.

___ Mohammed Khalil of Associated Press Television News contributed to this report from Alexandria.
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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The former wife of critically ill Nelson Mandela says he is showing "great improvement" compared to a few days ago.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela gave the update on the former president's health Friday while speaking to media outside Mandela's former home in Soweto.

"I'm not a doctor but I can say that from what he was a few days ago there is great improvement," said Madikizela-Mandela, who is also a member of South Africa's Parliament.

Members of Nelson Mandela's family and South African Cabinet ministers have visited the hospital where the 94-year-old former president is critically ill.

On Thursday, the office of South African President Jacob Zuma said that Mandela's condition was critical but stable.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The last thing President Barack Obama wants to do is turn Edward Snowden into a grand enemy of the state or a Daniel Ellsberg-type hero who speaks truth to power.

In the shifting narrative of the Obama administration, the man whose leaks of top-secret material about government surveillance programs have tied the national security apparatus in knots and brought charges under the Espionage Act has now been demoted to a common fugitive unworthy of international intrigue or extraordinary pursuit by the U.S. government.

A "29-year-old hacker," in the words of Obama; fodder for a made-for-TV movie, perhaps, but not much more.

"This is not exceptional from a legal perspective," the president said Thursday of Snowden's efforts to avoid capture by hopscotching from Hawaii to Hong Kong to Russia.

"I'm not going to have one case of a suspect who we're trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I've got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues simply to get a guy extradited," the president told reporters in Senegal.

It was the second time in a week that the administration had toned down its rhetoric as Snowden remained out of reach and first China and then Russia refused to send him back.

Just Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry was talking tough against China and calling Snowden a traitor whose actions are "despicable and beyond description." By Tuesday, Kerry was calling for "calm and reasonableness" on the matter, and adding, "We're not looking for a confrontation. We are not ordering anybody."

There are plenty of reasons for Obama to pull back, beyond his professed desire to avoid international horse-trading for the leaker.

The president, in his own words, has "a whole lot of business to do with China and Russia." Why increase tensions in an already uneasy relationship when Obama is looking for Russia's cooperation in finding a path to peace in Syria, for example?

In addition, less-heated dialogue could make it easier to broker Snowden's return because, despite the latest shrugs, U.S. officials very much want him.

"There's a lot of signaling going on," said Steve Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. "If the White House were issuing ultimatums, then Russia might feel obliged not to cooperate. But if it's merely one request among many others, that might make it easier to advance to a resolution."

The president also may have a U.S. audience in mind for his comments.

Obama's Democratic base includes plenty of defenders of civil liberties who are sympathetic to Snowden's professed goal of making government more transparent.

Benjamin Pauker, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, said the president was loath to elevate Snowden to a state enemy or "an Ellsberg-type truth-teller," referring to the 1971 leaker of the Pentagon Papers, which showed the U.S. government had misled the public about the war in Vietnam.

Ellsberg himself recently called Snowden's revelations the most significant disclosures in the nation's history.

The administration, though, would rather marginalize Snowden, a former National Security Agency systems analyst who is thought to have custody of more classified documents.

"Calling him a hacker, as opposed to a government contractor or an NSA employee, brings him down a notch to someone who's an irritant, as opposed to someone who has access to integral intelligence files," Pauker said. "To externalize him and brand him with a black-hat hacker tag distances him from the government."

The disdainful talk isn't just coming from the White House.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called Snowden "a high school dropout who had a whole series of both academic troubles and employment troubles" after a recent closed hearing on the leaks. The committee's top Democrat, C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger from Maryland, called Snowden "a legend in his own mind" for claiming to be able to use NSA systems to access any email or phone call anywhere — something the NSA's director has said can't be done.

There may also be face-saving benefits for Obama in cutting down Snowden, who turned 30 last week. An unsuccessful full-court press for Snowden's return would only show the limitations of Obama's international influence.

It's not the first time a president has tried to reset expectations by first elevating and then playing down the importance of an international fugitive who eluded capture, at least for a time.

President George W. Bush went from putting out a "dead-or-alive" ultimatum for 9-11 terror mastermind Osama bin Laden to dismissing him as "a person who's now been marginalized."

"I just don't spend that much time on him," Bush said in March 2002.

Candidate Barack Obama pledged during the 2008 presidential campaign: "We will kill bin Laden, we will crush al-Qaida. That has to be our biggest national security priority."

By January 2009, just days before his inauguration, Obama was saying: "My preference, obviously would be to capture or kill him. But if we have so tightened the noose that he's in a cave somewhere and can't even communicate with his operatives, then we would meet our goal of protecting America."

As it turned out, he got him.

AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report.
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