Muslim Brotherhood supporters carry the body of a comrade who was shot dead during clashes with security forces in Cairo on Friday. (AFP)
Cairo, Aug. 16 (Reuters): Muslim Brotherhood protests plunged into violence across Egypt today, with around 50 killed in Cairo alone on a “Day of Rage” called by Islamist followers of ousted President Mohamed Mursi to denounce a police crackdown.
Automatic gunfire echoed across Cairo and black smoke billowed from the capital’s huge Ramses Square, a military helicopter hovering low overhead looking down on the chaos.
A Reuters witness saw the bodies of 27 people, apparently hit by gunfire and birdshot, wrapped in white sheets in a mosque. A Reuters photographer said security forces opened fire from numerous directions when a police station was attacked.
At least 20 people died in clashes elsewhere in Egypt.
The violence followed Wednesday’s assault by security forces on two Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo that left hundreds dead, as the military-backed government tried to end weeks of turbulence that has pushed the Arab world’s most populous state to the brink of disaster.
Western governments urged restraint and Germany cautioned the new government that it was reviewing its ties. By contrast, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah said his country stood with Egypt in its battle against “terrorism”.
The army deployed armoured vehicles on major roads around the capital and the interior ministry said police would use live ammunition against anyone threatening public buildings.
“Sooner or later I will die. Better to die for my rights than in my bed. Guns don’t scare us anymore,” said Sara Ahmed, 28, a business manager who joined the demonstrators in Cairo.
“It’s not about the Brotherhood, it’s about human rights,” said Ahmed, one of the few women in the crowd not wearing a headscarf.
Anger on the streets was directed at army commander Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who moved against Mursi last month after massive street rallies against his administration that had been dogged by accusations of incompetence and partisanship.
“The people want the butcher executed,” said Mustafa Ibrahim, 37, referring to Sisi, as he marched with a crowd of several thousand on downtown Cairo.
Underscoring the deep divisions in the country, local residents helped the army block access to Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, the site of the main Brotherhood sit-in that was swept away during Wednesday’s police assault. “We are here to prevent those filthy bastards from coming back,” said Mohamed Ali, a 22-year-old business student.
The Egyptian presidency issued a statement criticising Obama, saying his comments were not based on “facts” and would strengthen violent groups that were committing “terrorist acts”. Pro-army groups posted videos on the Internet of policemen they said had been tortured and killed by Islamist militants.
Washington’s influence over Cairo has been called into question following Mursi’s overthrow. Since then Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have pledged $12 billion to Egypt, making them more prominent partners.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its people and government stood and stand by today with its brothers in Egypt against terrorism,” King Abdullah said in an uncompromising message read out on Saudi television. “I call on the honest men of Egypt and the Arab and Muslim nations ... to stand as one man and with one heart in the face of attempts to destabilise a country that is at the forefront of Arab and Muslim history,” he added.