Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Egyptian Forces Move to Clear Out Pro-Morsi Sit-Ins in Cairo - New York Times (blog)

CAIRO — Egyptian security forces moved on Wednesday to clear two camps in Cairo occupied by supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, deploying armored vehicles, bulldozers, tear gas, snipers and helicopters in a sustained and bloody operation that seemed to surprise some protesters with its ferocity.

Witnesses spoke of gunfire from shotguns and automatic rifles as white clouds of tear gas offset plumes of black smoke from burning tires in violence that deepened an already profound gulf in Egyptian society. Protesters arrived at field hospitals with gunshot wounds to the neck and chest. At one location, soldiers were seen firing on a lone protester lobbing rocks from a rooftop. There were reports of scores of fatalities, including several police officers. Many people were arrested, including leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, news reports said.

The Muslim Brotherhood called the operation a "massacre" and put the number of dead in the hundreds, a figure that was not immediately borne out by accounts from reporters visiting morgues. But the toll nonetheless seemed to climb rapidly.

At one makeshift morgue run by pro-Morsi supporters, the number of dead bodies rose from 3 to 12 in a matter of minutes. The Health Ministry put the number of dead at 56 and some estimates ranged much higher, potentially making Wednesday's killings the most deadly of three mass shootings since the overthrow of Mr. Morsi in early July.

Sky News said one of its veteran cameramen, Mick Deane, was killed. The circumstances were not clear. Mohamed el-Beltagy, a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said his 17-year-old daughter was also among the dead.

Hours after the operation began, the authorities said they had cleared the smaller of two encampments at Nahda Square near Cairo University. But protesters at the larger camp around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in the northeastern suburb of Nasr City remained defiant but seemed to be under siege by vastly superior forces seeking to uproot them.

Pro-Morsi demonstrators from outside the larger camp, meanwhile, clashed with the police on its approaches, braving waves of tear gas to barricade streets. Some protesters prepared gasoline bombs and broke paving stones to hurl at their adversaries as the confrontation unfolded.

The clashes illuminated the deepening fissures in Egypt between an Islamist movement sustained by the Muslim Brotherhood in support of Mr. Morsi and secular forces who cast the military as protectors. The operation also threatened to reinforce regional tensions with Turkey, whose Islamist-backed government opposed the overthrow of Mr. Morsi. The "armed intervention on civilians, on people demonstrating" was "completely unacceptable," in the words of President Abdullah Gul.

News agencies reported clashes between civilian supporters and foes of Mr. Morsi in other parts of Cairo. An Egyptian human rights group, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the crackdown had spurred counterattacks by Muslim Brotherhood supporters against Coptic Christian churches in Minya and Sohag, south of Cairo, apparently reflecting a perception among Islamists that the Coptic minority had supported the military's action in ousting Mr. Morsi.

As demonstrations spread to other cities on Wednesday, television footage from the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and Aswan in the south showed thousands of Morsi supporters taking to the streets to protest the military action in Cairo. The authorities were reported to have suspended rail services in and out of Cairo to prevent pro-Morsi demonstrators from regrouping or summoning reinforcements.

The coordinated action against the Morsi supporters, which had been expected for days, began around 7 a.m. local time. The protesters are seeking the reinstatement of Mr. Morsi, who became Egypt's first democratically elected president in 2012 and was deposed by the military six weeks ago. In removing Mr. Morsi, the military also suspended the Constitution and installed an interim government presided over by a senior jurist.

A statement from the interim government praised the security forces for showing what it called self-restraint and blaming leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood for inciting violence. "The government holds these leaders fully responsible for any spilled blood, and for all the rioting and violence going on," the statement said, according to Reuters.

The interim authorities also pledged to pursue a military-based political blueprint for the country's future in "a way that strives not to exclude any party from participation."

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo and Alan Cowell from London. Kareem Fahim contributed reporting from Cairo.


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