July 27, 2013

Many killed as clashes erupt at Morsi rally in Cairo

CAIRO (AFP) – Dozens of Mohamed Morsi’s supporters were shot dead in the Egyptian capital on Saturday as violence erupted following a night of massive rallies for and against the ousted Islamist president.

An AFP correspondent saw at least 37 bodies laid out at a makeshift mortuary in an Islamist-run field hospital in Cairo, with doctors saying all of them were killed by live rounds during the clashes.

Medics at the field hospital said a total of 75 people were killed, including bodies taken elsewhere. The health ministry said 20 people died.

The bloodshed came hours after the military-backed interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, warned a long-running sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque by Morsi loyalists would be ended “in the framework of the law”.

The army ousted Morsi on July 3 after nationwide protests demanding his ouster.

Tens of thousands of supporters from his Muslim Brotherhood movement have since been camped outside the mosque in the Nasr City district of Cairo, in a defiant bid to get him reinstated.

Doctors at the field hospital said at least 1,000 were also wounded in clashes with police on the road to Cairo’s international airport on Saturday morning.

The health ministry said 177 people were wounded.

A Brotherhood leader, Murad Ali, told AFP that police had fired live rounds, but the official MENA news agency cited a security official it did not identify as denying the police used any live bullets.

Running battles broke out at dawn on the airport road, with police firing tear gas at stone-throwing protesters, MENA said. Buckshot was fired, but it was unclear from which side.

Thousands of supporters and opponents of the coup also took to the streets of Egypt’s second city Alexandria, sparking fierce clashes that killed seven people and wounded 194.

The bloodshed came as the interim interior minister said the military-backed government would move swiftly to break up the Islamist protest camp in Nasr City.

“There will be decisions from the prosecutor soon, and this situation will be ended,” Mohammed Ibrahim told satellite television channel Al-Hayat.

Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who orchestrated the coup, had called for a mass show of support on Friday for a crackdown on “terrorism”.

Hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters obliged and gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and around the Itihadiya presidential palace.

A spokesman for army-installed president Adly Mansour said the numbers “affirmed the rejection of terrorism,” MENA said.

But the Islamist Anti-Coup Coalition said Friday’s turnout by its supporters proved that those who took part in the rallies “reject the bloody, military fascist coup that wants to set the wheel of history back”.

“We believe the next two days will be decisive in the history of Egypt,” the group said.

The violence came after the authorities charged Morsi with murder and formally remanded him in custody for 15 days. He had been held without charge since hours after his ouster.

Morsi stands accused of the “premeditated murder of some prisoners, officers and soldiers” when he broke out of prison during the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, MENA said.

The ousted Islamist was also suspected of conspiring to “storm prisons and destroy them… allowing prisoners to escape, including himself”.

On June 23, a court said Hamas militants facilitated the escape of prisoners during the 18-day uprising that forced out Mubarak.

Detention orders of the type issued by the court against Morsi are usually followed by moving a suspect to prison. The military has so far kept Morsi’s whereabouts secret to avoid attracting protests by his supporters.

Gehad El-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman, denounced the detention order, saying Mubarak’s regime was “signalling ‘we’re back in full force.'”

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country of 84 million people, has been rocked by violence that has killed some 200 people since the coup.

The army has said there will be no reneging on a roadmap to fresh elections next year.

But the Brotherhood and allied Islamist groups have rejected the interim government and vowed to press their protests until Morsi is reinstated.

Western governments are watching the crisis in Egypt with growing unease, fearing the military may be angling for a prolonged power grab.

The United States has decided not to label the army’s overthrow of Morsi a “coup”, a move that would trigger an automatic freeze of some $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) in aid, a US official said.

Nevertheless Washington on Wednesday suspended the delivery of four promised F-16 fighter jets.

Egypt’s military is also facing a low-level insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel. Militants killed a civilian and wounded five soldiers in attacks in the region on Friday.