Egypt's ElBaradei resigns as VP after violent crackdown on Morsi backers

Death toll hits 149 in nationwide clashes; curfew announced.

August 14, 2013 20:47
Pro-Morsi supporter throws a tear gas canister back towards the police during clashes in Cairo.

Muslim brotherhood protesters 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

After shooting with live ammunition began, wounded and dead lay on the streets near pools of blood. An area of the camp that had been a playground and art exhibit for the children of protesters was turned into a war-zone field hospital.

Seven dead bodies were lined up in the street, one of a teenager whose skull was smashed, with blood pouring from the back of his head.

At another location in Cairo, a Reuters reporter was in a crowd of Morsi supporters when he heard bullets whizzing past and hitting walls. The crowd dived to the ground for cover. A man was killed by a bullet to the head.

The government insists people in the camp were armed. Several television stations, all controlled by the state or its sympathizers, ran footage of what appeared to be pro-Morsi protesters firing rifles at soldiers from behind sandbag barricades.

However Reuters journalists and other Western media have not witnessed such incidents. Crowds appeared to be armed mainly with sticks, stones and slabs of concrete against rifle-wielding police and troops.

The violence was the worst Egypt has suffered since war with Israel in 1973, and reveals security forces prepared to take the sort of action against street protesters that they demurred from when the public rose up against autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

It forces tough decisions for Egypt's Western allies, especially Washington, which funds Egypt's military with $1.3 billion a year and has so far refused to label the army's overthrow of Morsi a “coup.”

"The United States strongly condemns the use of violence against protesters in Egypt," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "We extend our condolences to the families of those who have been killed, and to the injured. We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint."

"We also strongly oppose a return to a State of Emergency law, and call on the government to respect basic human rights such as freedom of peaceful assembly, and due process under the law. The world is watching what is happening in Cairo."


The United States and Europe had pressed hard for Egypt's generals not to crush the demonstrators. A diplomatic effort to open talks between the Brotherhood and the authorities, backed by Washington, Brussels and Arab states, collapsed last week.

Outside of Cairo, state media said Mursi supporters besieged and set fire to government buildings and attacked several churches. Those reports could not be independently confirmed. Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population of 85 million, have feared reprisals from Islamists.

Among the dead in Cairo were at least two journalists. A Reuters photographer was shot in the foot.
At a makeshift morgue at the camp field hospital, a Reuters reporter counted 29 bodies, with others still arriving. Most had died of gunshot wounds to the head.

A 12-year-old boy, bare-chested with tracksuit trousers, lay out in the corridor, a bullet wound through his neck. His mother was bent over him, rocking back and forth and silently kissing his chest. One of the nurses was sobbing on her hands and knees as she tried to mop up the blood with a roll of tissue.

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 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

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 European Union and several of its member countries deplored the killings.

Nine hours after the start of Wednesday's operation, crowds of protesters were still blocking roads, chanting and waving flags as security forces sought to prevent them from regrouping.

"At 7 a.m. 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."

The government issued a statement saying security forces had showed the "utmost degree of self-restraint,” reflected in what it said were low casualties compared to the number of people "and the volume of weapons and violence directed against the security forces."

It added that it would press ahead with implementing an army-backed political transition plan in "a way that strives not to exclude any party from participation". The plan, rejected by the Brotherhood, envisions elections in about six months.

Morsi became Egypt's first freely elected leader in June 2012, but failed to tackle deep economic malaise and worried many Egyptians with apparent efforts to tighten Islamist rule.

Liberals and young Egyptians staged huge rallies demanding that he resign, and the army said it removed him in response to the will of the people. Since he was deposed, Gulf Arab states pledged $12 billion in aid to Egypt, buying the interim government valuable time to try to put finances back in order.

By late afternoon, the campsite where Morsi's supporters had maintained their vigil for six weeks was empty. One man stood alone in the wreckage reciting the central tenet of Islam through a loudspeaker: "There is no God but Allah."

He wept, and then his voice broke off into silence.

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