Egypt faces new uncertainty after hundreds killed

2013-08-15 09:44

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Cairo – Egypt faced a new phase of uncertainty after the bloodiest day since its Arab Spring began, with nearly 300 people reported killed and thousands injured as police smashed two protest camps of supporters of the deposed Islamist president.

Yesterday’s raids touched off day-long street violence that prompted the military-backed interim leaders to impose a state of emergency and curfew, and drew widespread condemnation from the Muslim world and the West, including the United States.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed El Baradei resigned as Egypt’s interim vice president in protest – a blow to the new leadership’s credibility with the pro-reform movement.

Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said in a televised address to the nation it was a “difficult day” and he regretted the bloodshed, but offered no apologies for moving against the supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, saying they were given ample warnings to leave and he had tried foreign mediation efforts.

The leaders of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood called it a “massacre.” Several of them were detained as police swept through the two sit-in sites, scores of other Islamists were taken into custody, and the future of the once-banned movement was uncertain.

Backed by helicopters, police fired tear gas and used armored bulldozers to plow into the barricades at the two protest camps in different sections of Cairo where the Morsi supporters had been camped since before he was ousted by the military July 3.

The smaller camp – near Cairo University in Giza – was cleared of protesters relatively quickly, but it took about 12 hours for police to take control of the main sit-in site near the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in Nasr City that has served as the epicenter of the pro-Morsi campaign and had drawn chanting throngs of men, women and children only days earlier.

After the police moved on the camps, street battles broke out in Cairo and other cities across Egypt. Government buildings and police stations were attacked, roads were blocked, and Christian churches were torched, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said.

At one point, protesters trapped a police Humvee on an overpass near the Nasr City camp and pushed it off, according to images posted on social networking sites that showed an injured policeman on the ground below, near a pool of blood and the overturned vehicle.

The Health Ministry said 235 civilians were killed and more than 2 000 injured, while Ibrahim said 43 policemen died in the violence. The death toll was expected to rise.

Three journalists were among the dead: Mick Deane (61) a cameraman for British broadcaster Sky News; Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz (26) a reporter for the Gulf News, a state-backed newspaper in the United Arab Emirates; and Ahmed Abdel Gawad, who wrote for Egypt’s state-run newspaper Al Akhbar.

Deane and Elaziz were shot to death, their employers said, while the Egyptian Press Syndicate, a journalists’ union, said it had no information on how Gawad was killed.

For much of the afternoon, thousands of Morsi supporters chanting “God is great!” tried to join those besieged by the security forces inside the Nasr City camp. They were driven away when police fired tear gas.

Smoke clogged the sky above Cairo and fires smoldered on the streets, which were lined with charred poles and tarps after several tents were burned.

The Great Pyramids just west of Cairo were closed to visitors for the day, together with the Egyptian Museum in the heart of the city. The central bank instructed commercial banks to close branches in areas affected by the chaos.

“Egypt has never witnessed such genocide,” Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref told The Associated Press from the larger of the two protest camps before it was cleared.

The government declared a month-long nationwide state of emergency and imposed a nighttime curfew on Cairo, Alexandria on the Mediterranean and 12 other provinces where violence broke out following the simultaneous raids.

It also ordered the armed forces to support the police in restoring law and order and protect state facilities. Egypt was under emergency law for most of Mubarak’s 29 years in power.

Despite the curfew, sporadic clashes continued in Cairo through the evening.

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