|(From top) A woman tries to stop a bulldozer from crushing a wounded man during clashes at the protest camp near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, Cairo, on Wednesday, makeshift wooden huts burn at the camp and the body of a Mursi supporter lies at a camp near Cairo University. (AFP, Reuters, AP)
Cairo, Aug. 14 (Reuters): Egyptian security forces crushed a protest camp of thousands of supporters of the deposed President today, shooting dead scores of people in the bloodiest day in decades in the Arab world’s biggest country.
The health ministry said 149 people were killed, both in Cairo and in clashes that broke out elsewhere in the country.
Deposed President Mohamed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood said the death toll was far higher in what it described as a “massacre”.
While dead bodies wrapped in carpets were carried to a makeshift morgue near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, the army-backed rulers declared a one-month state of emergency, restoring to the military the unfettered power it wielded for decades before a pro-democracy uprising in 2011.
Thousands of Mursi’s supporters had been camped at two major sites in Cairo since before he was toppled on July 3, and had vowed not leave the streets until he was returned to power.
Violence spread beyond Cairo, with Mursi supporters and security forces clashing in the cities of Alexandria, Minya, Assiut, Fayoum and Suez and in Buhayra and Beni Suef provinces.
In Alexandria, ten people were killed during clashes between Mursi supporters and the police, a senior health ministry official said.
With the assault on the camps, the authorities have ended the six-week stand-off with a show of state force that defied international pleas for restraint.
The bloodshed also effectively ends the open political role of the Brotherhood, which survived for 85 years as an underground movement before emerging from the shadows after the 2011 uprising to win every election held since.
In a rare sign of unease from among the Brotherhood’s opponents, Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN diplomat, quit his post of vice-president in the army-backed government, saying the conflict could have been resolved by peaceful means. “The beneficiaries of what happened today are those call for violence, terrorism and the most extreme groups.”
Since Mursi was toppled, the security forces had twice before killed scores of protesters in an attempt to drive Mursi’s followers off the streets.
But they had held back from a full-scale assault on the tented camp where followers and their families have lived behind makeshift barricades.
After the assault on the camp began, desperate residents recited Quranic verse and screamed, “God help us! God help us!”, while helicopters hovered overhead and armoured bulldozers ploughed over their makeshift defences.
Reuters journalists on the scene saw masked police in dark uniforms pour out of police vans with sticks and tear gas bombs. They tore down tents and set them ablaze.
“They smashed through our walls. Police and soldiers, they fired tear gas at children,” said Saleh Abdulaziz, 39, a secondary school teacher clutching a bleeding wound on his head.
Outside Cairo, state media said Mursi supporters besieged and set fire to government buildings and attacked several churches. Those reports could not be independently confirmed.
Mohamed El-Beltagi, Brotherhood leader, said his 17-year-old daughter had been killed in the clashes. Among the other dead were at least two journalists. A Reuters photographer was shot in the foot.
Beltagi warned of wider conflict, and singled out the head of the armed forces who deposed Mursi on July 3 following mass protests calling for his resignation.
“I swear by God that if you stay in your homes, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will embroil this country so that it becomes Syria. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will push this nation to a civil war so that he escapes the gallows.”
Later tonight El-Beltagi and senior Muslim Brotherhood official Essam El-Erian were detained by the police, a security official said. The official said Islamist preacher Safwat Hegazi had also been detained.
Adli Mansour, the judge appointed President by the army when it overthrew Egypt’s first elected leader on July 3, announced a state of emergency for one month and called on the armed forces to help police enforce security. Rights activists said the move would give legal cover for the army to make arrests.
A curfew was imposed in Cairo, Alexandria and several provinces from 7pm to 6am (local time).
Turkey urged the UN Security Council and Arab League to act quickly to stop a “massacre” in Egypt. Iran warned of the risk of civil war. The EU and several of its member countries deplored the killings.
The US condemned the crackdown on protesters and urged the UN Security Council and Arab League to act quickly to stop a “massacre”.
Nine hours after the start of today’s operation, crowds of protesters were still blocking roads, chanting and waving flags as security forces sought to prevent them from regrouping.
“At 7am they came. Helicopters from the top and bulldozers from below. They smashed through our walls. Police and soldiers, they fired tear gas at children,” said teacher Saleh Abdulaziz, 39, clutching a bleeding wound on his head. “They continued to fire at protesters even when we begged them to stop.”