Egyptian security forces shot dead dozens of supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi yesterday, witnesses said, days after the army chief called for a popular mandate to wipe out “violence and terrorism.”
Men in helmets and black police fatigues fired on crowds gathered before dawn on the fringes of a round-the-clock sit-in near a mosque in northeast Cairo, Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement said.
“They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill,” Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad said. “The bullet wounds are in the head and chest.”
The bloodshed has rocked a country already struggling with the transition to democracy two years after former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was swept from power.
A Muslim Brotherhood Web site said 120 people had been killed and about 4,500 injured. A Reuters reporter counted 36 bodies at one morgue, while health officials said there were a further 21 corpses in two nearby hospitals.
Activists rushed casualties into a makeshift hospital. Some were carried in on planks or blankets. One ashen teenager was laid out on the floor, a bullet hole in his head.
Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim accused the Brotherhood of exaggerating the death toll for political ends. He said only 21 people had died and denied police opened fire.
Ibrahim said local residents living close to the Rabaa al-Adawia mosque vigil had clashed with protesters in the early hours after they had blocked off a major bridge road. He said that police had used teargas to try to break up the fighting.
Well over 200 people have been killed in violence since the army toppled Morsi on July 3, following huge protests against his year in power. The army denies accusations it staged a coup, saying it intervened to prevent national chaos.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had poured onto the streets on Friday in response to a call by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for nationwide demonstrations to give him backing to confront the weeks-long wave of violence.
His appeal was seen as a challenge to the Brotherhood, which organized its own rallies on Friday calling for the return of Morsi, who has been held in an undisclosed location since his ousting and faces a raft of charges, including murder.
Ibrahim said Morsi was likely to be transferred shortly to the same Cairo prison where Mubarak is now held.
Brotherhood leaders appealed for calm yesterday, but activists at the Rabaa al-Adawia mosque vigil voiced fury.
“The people want the execution of Sisi,” a cleric shouted to the crowd from a stage by the mosque. “The people want the execution of the butcher.”
Ibrahim said the pro-Morsi sit-ins would “God willing, soon ... be dealt with” based on a decision by a public prosecutor, who is reviewing complaints from local residents unhappy with the huge encampment on their doorstep.
The head of the Nour Party, the second-biggest Islamist group after the Brotherhood, called for an immediate investigation into what it called a “massacre.”
“There is no substitute for a political solution with the commitment of everyone to exercise restraint ... and to renounce violence in all its forms, whether verbal or physical,” Younis Makhyoun said in a Facebook statement.