JNN 15 Aug 2013 Cairo : A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday after Egyptian security forces violently broke up sit-in camps of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo, demanding the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader, Officials say at least 281 have been killed nationwide.
There are conflicting casualty reports. According to the Health Ministry, at least 281 people including 43 policemen have been killed and 2,001 injured in Wednesday’s violence nationwide.
“The dead are both from police and civilians,” said the ministry’s spokesman, Hamdi Abdel Karim.
However, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad claimed that as many as 2,000 people had been killed and 10,000 injured in the police operation.
Both major protest camps in Cairo were taken control of by police, with the second one being seized about an hour after a curfew was announced.
The 7:00 pm-to-6:00 am curfew was imposed in major cities including Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. It will last for the next month, or until further notice.
On Wednesday morning, Egyptian police sent in armored bulldozers to break up the protest outside Rabaa al-Adawiya in eastern Cairo, where one of the Muslim Brotherhood camps is located. Police also broke up a second protest site outside the Cairo University campus in Giza in the city’s west.
Egyptian state media said at least 200 people were arrested during the security forces’ breakup of the sit-in camps. Police said protesters had weapons, including automatic firearms, ammunition and gas cylinders.
Mohammed el-Beltagy, a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, called on the police and army troops to mutiny against their commanders and for Egyptians to take to the streets in protest against military rule.
“Oh, Egyptian people, your brothers are in the square… Are you going to remain silent until the genocide is completed?” AP quoted him as saying. El-Beltagy is wanted by authorities to answer allegations of inciting violence.
Hours later El-Beltagy was arrested along with a number of other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, Reuters reported, citing a security source.
As the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood continued in Cairo, supporters of the movement took to the streets elsewhere in the country. Pro-Morsi demonstrations were reported in the cities of Alexandria, Aswan, Beni Suef, Kafr El-Zayat, Minya and Asyut.
In Minya, about 1,000 pro-Morsi protesters set fire to a church before being dispersed with tear gas, security sources reported.
According to Fars news agency, Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned the massacre, saying, “Iran is following the bitter events in Egypt closely, disapproves of the violent actions, condemns the massacre of the population.”
Egyptian Vice President, Nobel Peace prizewinner Mohamed ElBaradei, announced his resignation in a letter to the interim president on Wednesday, AFP reported.
“It has become too difficult to continue bearing responsibility for decisions I do not agree with and whose consequences I fear,” ElBaradei said.
He said his conscience was troubled over the loss of life “particularly as I believe it could have been avoided”.
“Unfortunately those who gain from what happened today are those who call for violence and terror, the extremist groups,” he said.
A state of emergency was declared across Egypt, according to a presidential statement announced on state television on Wednesday afternoon.
The state of emergency began at 4:00 p.m. local time (14:00 GMT) on Wednesday and will last for a month.
The statement also ordered the army to help police forces to “resolve the crisis across Egypt”.
Two journalists were also killed while covering the violence on Wednesday. Mick Deane, a cameraman for the UK-based Sky News channel, and Habiba Abd Elaziz, a reporter for the UAE-based Xpress newspaper, died from gunshot wounds.
The Health Ministry has put the figure at 56 people killed, including six members of the security forces, and a further 526 people injured. At least 66 security forces were injured.
Live footage from Cairo on Wednesday morning showed smoke engulfing Nahda Square, the smaller of the two sit-ins based in Giza, amid reports of tear gas and birdshots being used on supporters of the deposed president.
By mid-morning, the Interior Ministry said security forces had “total control” over Nahda Square, and that “police forces had managed to remove most of the tents” in the area. Security forces had blocked all access to the protest camp.
In an afternoon press conference, the cabinet media adviser thanked the security forces for “exercising self-control and high-level professionalism in dispersing the sit-ins,” and held the Muslim Brotherhood responsible for “escalation and violence”.
Witnesses said that after firing tear gas into the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in, pandemonium struck among the thousands of protesters who had set up camp there soon after Morsi was ousted by the army on July 3.
Protesters have camped in Cairo demanding the reinstatement of Morsi, who was country’s first democratically elected president and his Freedom and Justice Party was the largest political group in the now dissolved parliament.
Clashes quickly erupted between protesters and security forces on one side of the camp, with automatic fire reverberating across the square. It was not immediately clear who was shooting.
Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said: “This battle is much bigger than what you’re seeing and the casualties. This is a fight for the future of the country, and something that will determine the course of the Egyptian revolution that has been going on for two years now.
“No one expected this to be an easy operation. It became very clear that both sides were engaged in a battle of wills and a dangerous game of brinkmanship.”
In response to the security operation, the Muslim Brotherhood urged Egyptians to take to the streets across the country to “stop a massacre”.
Meanwhile, reports emerged that at least two police stations in Cairo had been stormed, and several other government buildings were attacked.
State television reported that police were on high alert, with prisoners and ammunition being moved to secure facilities, while the Information Ministry called on people to help protect government institutions and police centers which were under attack.
International condemnation of the violence was swift.
Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul branded the crackdown as “unacceptable”.
Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, urged supporters of Egypt’s interim government, as well as supporters of Morsi to renounce violence.
The European Union on Wednesday called on Egypt’s military government to exercise restraint in dealing with the protesters, saying that the incoming reports of numerous deaths were “extremely worrying.”
Supporters of President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government, which came to power in elections after the 2011 Egyptian revolution, are demanding his reinstatement.
The Egyptian military seized power in a coup last month after massive popular protests against Morsi’s government, as the country slid into anarchy and economic chaos.
At least 250 people have died in clashes in the weeks following the military coup.