CAIRO (AP) - The general's voice boomed from loudspeakers set up in Cairo's central Tahrir Square and the boisterous crowds erupted into cheers, dancing and waving a sea of red, black and white Egyptian flags.
Fireworks burst in the sky and green lasers waved overhead as millions of Egyptians celebrated the military's announcement that it was ousting Islamist Mohammed Morsi after four days of mass protests demanding his removal.
"The people finally overthrew the regime," hundreds of thousands chanted, rocking the plaza in scenes reminiscent of the protests that toppled autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.
But highlighting the deep divisions that remain, supporters of the Islamist leader cried "Down with military rule" after army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi finished his statement. Scores of Morsi backers also went on a rampage in southern Egypt, breaking shop facades in the southern city of Assiut, smashing a police car in Aswan, and attempting to break into a police station in the coastal city of Marsa Matrouh, leaving six people killed.
But in most of the Egyptian capital, el-Sissi was seen as a savior and the military was hailed by the public for answering their calls to remove Morsi, just over a year after his June 30 inauguration. Some people fired guns into the air to celebrate, and subway riders broke into cheers of "the people and the army are one hand."
It also came after hours of waiting for the military to make its move as Morsi defiantly refused to step down despite the expiration of a Wednesday afternoon deadline to reach agreement with his opponents. Morsi was Egypt's first democratically elected leader but he drew the ire of many Egyptians who accused him and his Muslim Brotherhood of polarizing the country by trying to impose Islamist rule and failing to introduce reforms.
"It was a nightmare and it ended," said Mona el-Desouki, 38, waving an Egyptian flag as she stood in front of the famed Egyptian museum on the edge of Tahrir. "Life came back to us. Egypt is ours again. Our life will become as it was, with no difference between Muslims and Christians."
Chants of "Misr" or "Egypt" also rang through the square. Signaling the high hopes that the country could return to a sense of normalcy, security officials removed some of the concrete barricades that have blocked several streets in the area because of the frequent clashes between protesters and police.
The military has long been seen as protectors of the people, although the generals were accused of holding onto power for too long after Mubarak's ouster.
Protesters carried el-Sissi's picture, and others climbed onto armored vehicles to take photographs with the soldiers. Residents of a house near one military post offered the soldiers tea and food, counting on them for protection from the wrath of Morsi's supporters.
"When I saw these military trucks in front of our house, I felt safe because I know the Brotherhood and their supporters will not just leave that easily," said one of the residents, 75-year-old Mervat Talaat.
People drove around Cairo, honking car horns as children waved Egyptian flags from the windows. Outside the presidential palace across town from Tahrir, people cried and hugged as cheers drowned out the rest of el-Sissi's speech.
In the ancient city of Luxor, boats docked in the Nile River also sounded their horns as crowds marched by in celebration. People shot off fireworks in the city, which has suffered from a drastic drop in tourism due to the turmoil that has wracked Egypt since Mubarak's ouster. Others handed out gifts and cartons of cigarettes to bystanders.
Ahmed Gad, 23, said it was the happiest moment of his life.
"In 2011 we won a political battle. This time we won a political and a religious battle because the Brotherhood kept accusing us of being heretics and used religion and acted as if they had the real Islam," he said.
Mohammed Nageh, 25, said he had voted for Morsi but felt the Islamist leader had acted in the interest of himself and the Muslim Brotherhood and failing the rest of Egypt.
"I voted for him because I didn't want the old regime back in," he said as he danced and removed his shirt. "But this revolution was made for poor and they are the people who suffered the most. We are here to put the revolution back on track, so it serves the poor, not just the Brotherhood."
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