Security forces moved in yesterday on two huge Cairo protest camps set up by supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, launching a crackdown that quickly turned into a bloodbath with dozens dead.
Egypt’s interim president has declared a monthlong state of emergency to combat worsening violence after riot police moved to clear the two camps of Morsi supporters.
A statement by the office of Egyptian President Adly Mansour said that the state of emergency takes effect at 4pm.
Less than three hours after the first tear gas canisters rained down on tents of protesters in the sprawling Rabaa al-Adawiya camp in east Cairo, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent counted at least 43 bodies in a makeshift morgue set up by medics at a field hospital treating scores of wounded.
All of the dead were males, many killed by gunfire.
The operation began shortly after dawn when security forces surrounded Rabaa al-Adawiya and a similar protest at al-Nahda square, in the center of the capital.
Witnesses and an AFP correspondent said after firing tear gas, security forces surged into Rabaa al-Adawiya, sparking pandemonium among the thousands of protesters who had set up the camp soon after Morsi was ousted by the army on July 3.
Men in gas masks rushed to grab each canister and dunk them in containers of water, as the main stage near the mosque of the camp blared Islamic anthems and protesters chanted Allahu Akbar (“God is great.”)
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 doing the shooting.
TV footage showed the injured being carried to a makeshift medical center, as well as police dragging away protesters, who have defied numerous ultimatums by the army-installed authorities to end their demonstrations.
Protest leaders wearing gas masks stood defiantly on a stage while crowds of people wearing face masks stood amid the swirling tear gas as bulldozers began dismantling the camp.
Police barred journalists not already in the camp from entering.
The Egyptian Ministry of the Interior said about two hours into the operation that security forces had “total control” over al-Nahda Square, the smaller of the two camps.
A security official said that dozens of Morsi supporters had been arrested with the help of residents of the area.
TV footage showed protesters who had been rounded up sitting in the ground handcuffed and surrounded by security forces. Families, with their children, carrying plastic bags were seen being escorted out of the square by police.
Soon after the police launched the crackdown, angry Morsi supporters blockaded some streets of the capital and set tires ablaze, sending black smoke billowing across the sky.
The Muslim Brotherhood urged Egyptians to take to the streets in their thousands to denounce the “massacre.”
“This is not an attempt to disperse, but a bloody attempt to crush all voices of opposition to the military coup,” Brotherhood spokesman Gehad al-Haddad said on Twitter.
The Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp “is calling on Egyptians to take to the streets to stop the massacre,” al-Haddad said.
In a separate tweet, al-Haddad said at least 250 people were killed and more than 5,000 injured. There was no immediate independent confirmation of the tolls.
Additional reporting by AP