A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday after Egyptian security forces violently broke up sit-in camps of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo. 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.
Following the violence, a month-long state of emergency was announced in the country, with the Armed Forces authorized to support the Interior Ministry in imposing it.
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.
Helicopters were circling over the protest sites, using loudspeakers to call on the demonstrators to leave. Security troops used tear gas against protesters, and there were also reports of intensive gunfire in the area.
Protesters are also accusing the military of ordering snipers to shoot at them from the rooftops of buildings surrounding the sit-in camps.
“It is nasty inside, they are destroying our tents. We can’t breathe inside and many people are in hospital,” protester Murad Ahmed described the camp crackdown.
Police and military forces had previously cordoned off the camps with barbed wire, leaving corridors for protesters to leave.
Reuters cited an eyewitness as saying that army soldiers shot pro-Morsi activists in the legs as they were trying to join the Rabaa protest camp. Some of the supporters of the ousted president threw stones and petrol bombs at the troops, the news agency said.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that Morsi supporters who attempted to remain in the protest camps would face prosecution.
Police cleared the smaller camp in Giza in about two hours.
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.
The Egyptian government called on the Muslim Brotherhood to “listen to the voice of reason” and halt violence, saying it holds the movement’s leaders responsible for the bloodshed during the dispersal of protest camps Wednesday.
“The government holds these leaders fully responsible for any spilt blood, and for all the rioting and violence going on,” the government said in a statement.
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.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry said it intercepted phone calls from Muslim Brotherhood leaders instructing their supporters to attack police stations. The planned assaults have been foiled, the ministry said.
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.
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.
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