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Thousands of riot police using water cannons and attacking with truncheons brutally cleared a ramshackle Sudanese refugee camp. Security officials said at least 20 refugees, including three children, died in the melee.
An official Interior Ministry statement said 12 protesters died and 74 police were wounded Friday morning. But other ministry officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press, put the number of dead at 20.
Boutros Deng, one of the protest leaders at the camp, told The Associated Press that 26 Sudanese were killed, including 17 men, two women and seven children.
The violence capped a night in which authorities intermittently conducted last-ditch negotiations and doused the squatters with water canons before launching the assault to end the three-month protest at the camp.
At some points during the camp protests, as many as 2,000 Sudanese - men, women and children - were crammed into the tiny camp, living under plastic sheeting and cardboard in a small park alongside a main Cairo boulevard.
Egypt's Interior Ministry blamed the violence on the protesters.
"Attempts were made to persuade them to disperse, but to no avail," the ministry said in a statement early Friday. "The migrants' leaders resorted to incitement and attacks against the police."
Sudanese Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ali Ahmed Kerti, speaking to reporters in Cairo before returning to Khartoum, joined Egyptian authorities in blaming the refugees, some of whom "sought to escalate the situation with no regard to the consequences," Egypt's MENA news agency reported.
He was also critical of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees whose organization, he said, had "promised them (the refugees) immigration but did not fulfill its promise."
In Geneva, Switzerland, the High Commissioner, Ant×£nio Guterres, expressed his shock and sadness over the violence and deaths.
The protesters, who were in Egypt to escape violence in neighboring Sudan, set up the camp on Sept. 29 to draw attention to their demands to be resettled in a third country.
The Egyptian Interior Ministry said it had acted in part after the UNHCR asked for protection because it had received "threats to attack the commision offices and its members."
Officials at the South Center, an independent Sudanese human rights monitoring group, said 1,280 refugees were taken by bus to three locations outside Cairo. About 700 were taken to a camp used by security forces in Liman Torah, a prison north of Cairo. The rest were transferred to camps in Dahshour and Mensheit Nasser, the officials said.
In a statement faxed to AP in Cairo, the group said, "The savage way the security forces intervened led to a real human massacre."
In a showdown played out during the first five hours of Friday, the protesters dismantled the camp, but most refused to leave on buses brought in to take them to camps elsewhere in the city.
Police fired water cannons at the group, some of whom defiantly shouted "Allahu Akbar" and stood their ground. The authorities negotiated with the protest leaders in between bursts of water canon. At about 5 a.m., after a final dousing, police swarmed into the park from all directions.
The Associated Press saw police brutally attacking the Sudanese with truncheons. In many cases, police continued to beat protesters even as they were being dragged away to buses. The AP saw two adults and a young girl, apparently three or four years old, being carried away unconscious. An emergency medical worker in an ambulance said the girl was dead.
The Interior Ministry's initial statement claimed the casualties were the result of a stampede among the refugees.
The AP saw no stampede. The protesters could not flee because the camp was completely encircled by police, with water canons at each corner. Protesters could be seen fighting back with long sticks that appeared to be supports for makeshift tents.
The UNHCR announced last week that it had reached a deal with some of the protest leaders promising to resume hearing some cases and offering a one-time payment of up to $700 for housing.
But most of those in the camp rejected the deal, saying they wanted promises of resettlement abroad.
The sit-in began Sept. 29 after the UNHCR stopped hearing the cases of Sudanese seeking refugee status after the January peace deal that ended their home country's 21-year civil war.
About 30,000 Sudanese are registered as refugees in Egypt, and estimates of Sudanese living in this country have ranged from 200,000 to several million.
Egypt, which suffers from high unemployment and strained social services for its own population of 77 million, offers the Sudanese little assistance, and the Sudanese complain of discrimination by Egyptians.
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