Morsi supporters chant slogans against Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi during clashes with security forces. (Hassan Ammar, AP)
CAIRO (USA TODAY) -- More than 200 people and police were killed in clashes across the
country that erupted Wednesday when Egyptian security forces cleared out
thousands of people at sit-ins who were demanding the return of ousted
president Mohammed Morsi.
The Egyptian Health Ministry says 235
civilians died and more than 1,000 were injured in the clashes after
which Egypt's interim president declared a state of emergency and
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said 43
policemen also died in the assault. He said Morsi supporters attacked 21
police stations and seven Coptic Christian churches across the nation,
and assaulted the Finance Ministry in Cairo.
The streets were
cleared of most people by nightfall after the military imposed a curfew.
At the height of the assault, smoke filled the sky in Cairo from fires
that were smoldering in the streets at two sit-ins. The sit-in areas
were largely abandoned, heaped with charred tent poles and tarps.
A protester at the Rabaa Al-Awadiya camp said he saw snipers and police with machine guns firing at people.
are dying women, children," said Hesham Al Ashry, a pro-Morsi
protester who follows hard-line Islamic ideology, speaking frantically
from inside the sit-in shortly after the assault began.
Vice President Mohammed El Baradei announced his resignation, saying he "cannot bear the responsibility for one drop of blood."
shops in Cairo shut their doors and the streets were almost entirely
vacant of the throng of vehicles that typically clog the capital. Trains
stopped operating and banks were closed as police chased protesters
accused of instigating violence.
"All the people are afraid," said
taxi driver Korolos Gad, whipping his car through the empty streets and
pointing out the military tanks that deployed in the city. "After a
while, things will be fine."
The military blocked roads leading to
the smaller Nahda sit-in and cordoned off the bridge that leads to
Tahrir Square. Downtown, near another entrance to the square, tanks
lined a small side street in front of the Egyptian Museum.
Protesters, many of whom were members of Morsi's Islamist Muslim
Brotherhood, told reporters that government forces used live fire
against them in the morning when they refused to leave. Britain's Sky
News confirmed that one of its cameramen was killed in the clashes.
Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said only tear gas
was used and that the gunfire broke out when people in the sit-ins
stared firing, but protesters insisted it was a massacre.
and army helicopters hovered over both sites. The military said Army
troops did not take part in the clearing out of the two sit-ins but
provided security at both spots.
Bearded men could be seen
handcuffed and sitting along sidewalks not far from the larger protest
camp outside the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo's Nasr City. At least
200 people have been arrested at the two camps, the Ministry has said.
smaller of the two sit-ins, at Nahda Square, had been cleared and
sealed off by security forces, according to witness reports.
U.S. Embassy in Cairo closed its consular services starting at 1 p.m.
local time as retaliatory attacks erupted across the country. Morsi, the
nation's first freely elected leader, was ousted by the military July 3
after he forced through changes to the constitution that appeared to
curtail freedoms, ignored the rulings of the Supreme Court and
encouraged violence against his opponents.
There was protests and
clashes outside Cairo as well as between demonstrators and security
forces, according to witnesses and local news reports.
loyalists torched a church in the Upper Egyptian city of Sohag and set
fire to police vehicles in Assuit. In Suez, they blocked a road by
setting car tires on fire, the state news agency said. Police stations
across the country were attacked, and in Fayoum, Morsi supporters set
fire to a Christian youth center, local press reports said.
people of Egypt will take to every square in Egypt Cairo, Alexandria,
Tanta and in Upper Egypt," said Mohammed Attiya, a supporter of Morsi as
he went to a protest in the Nile Delta. "They will be there until they
end the coup."
Supporters of Morsi have maintained the two main
Cairo sit-ins for over a month despite threats by authorities that they
will be dispersed by security forces. Protesters said they would not
leave and demanded Morsi's reinstatement.
"People elected Morsi
and voted for the constitution and the parliament," said Abou Zeid Badr,
30, at the Nahda sit-in Tuesday night. "And these votes were crushed by
Al Ashry said that the United States, which says
the military moved to restore democracy and not take over the country,
"They have to be clear as soon as possible that
this is a military, bloody coup," he said amid sounds of gunfire. "If
the United States does not take a clear stance, there will be no embassy
here and no Americans anywhere in the Middle East. Tell them to wake up
and say: This is a military coup."
U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry called the operation a "serious blow" to efforts in Egypt to get
all factions in the county to agree on a democratic future. The interim
government has been working to set up new elections, though the
Brotherhood has refused to participate.
Kerry, who spoke with
Egypt's foreign minister Wednesday, said imposition of "martial law"
through the state of emergency must end quickly to prevent further
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the Obama
administration must take a much stronger hand in Egypt by forcing the
military to move quickly on a new election and to stop "leading from
"This is a test of American leadership," he said. "Obama's foreign policy is not working."
said the situation will not be resolved by crackdowns. They say the
interim government must take steps that the majority of Egyptians would
support, such as measures to boost employment and incomes. Egypt's
economy has been ruined by the unrest, and tourism, one of the country's
major industries, has fallen dramatically.
"The deep roots of the
crisis need to be addressed and what we're seeing is the temporary
manifestation of the anger of the Muslim Brotherhood," said political
analyst Mazen Hassan, in Cairo. "It will be a mistake to think
(authorities) can end this crisis by dispersing them."
Unlike sit-ins over the past two and a half years, since the uprising
against Hosni Mubarak in 2011, authorities in early August called the
pro-Morsi camps a threat to national security.
The sit-ins were
also more fortified than any previous protest camps, likely making it
more difficult for security to break them up and creating a landscape
that could lead to more casualties, Hassan said. The Rabaa camp was
protected by several sets of walls made from pavement stones and piles
of sandbags, which also secured the perimeter of the Nahda sit-in.
rights groups had warned against forcefully dispersing the camps and
foreign diplomats over the past few weeks flooded into the capital to
help resolve the crisis. Authorities, however, said that international
Over the past six weeks, the sit-ins grew into
self-sufficient hamlets. Protesters created extensive security networks,
with volunteers at Nahda Square checking identification cards,
searching cameras and cars and seeking to weed out secret police. If
suspects were caught, they were forced to give testimony and a copy of
their ID, Ghaffar said.
Demonstrators stayed in tents made from
wooden frames, drew electricity from lamp posts, built restrooms,
established a garbage collection network and hosted organized activities
including soccer games at the Rabaa sit-in. Meals were distributed and
makeshift hospitals were established.
"People gave us money
donations or medicine, and we also bought supplies," said Mohammed
Ads, a medical student who volunteered at an emergency hospital
established Tuesday in Rabaa Al-Adawiya in anticipation of the looming
need to treat the wounded.