Police storm protest camps; 278 dead across Egypt

Egyptian security forces, backed by armored cars and bulldozers, moved on Wednesday to clear two sit-in camps by supporters of the country’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi, showering protesters with tear gas as the sound of gunfire rang out at both sites.

Egyptian security forces, backed by armored cars and bulldozers, moved on Wednesday to clear two sit-in camps by supporters of the country’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi, showering protesters with tear gas as the sound of gunfire rang out at both sites. Photo by The Associated Press.

CAIRO (AP) — Riot police backed by armored vehicles, bulldozers and helicopters Wednesday swept away two encampments of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, setting off running street battles in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. At least 278 people were killed nationwide, many of them in the crackdown on the protest sites.

Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader in the interim government, resigned in protest over the assaults as the military-backed leadership imposed a monthlong state of emergency and nighttime curfew.

Clashes broke out elsewhere in the capital and other provinces as Islamist anger spread over the dispersal of the 6-week-old sit-ins by Morsi’s Islamist supporters that divided Egypt.

It was the highest single day death toll since the 18-day uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The Health Ministry said 235 civilians were killed and more than 2,000 injured, while Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said 43 policemen 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, occupying its ground floor.

The violence drew condemnation from other predominantly Muslim countries, but also from the West, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying it had dealt a “serious blow” to Egypt’s political reconciliation efforts.

The assault to take control of the two sit-in sites came after days of warnings by the interim administration that replaced Morsi after he was ousted in a July 3 coup. The camps on opposite sides of the capital began in late June to show support for Morsi. Protesters — many from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood — have demanded his reinstatement.

The smaller camp was cleared relatively quickly, but it took hours for police to take control of the main sit-in site, which is near the Rabbah al-Adawiya Mosque that has served as the epicenter of the pro-Morsi campaign.

Several senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who were wanted by police were detained after police stormed the camp near the mosque, according to security officials and state television. Among those seized were Brotherhood leaders Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian, and hard-line cleric Safwat Hegazy — all wanted by prosecutors to answer allegations of inciting violence and conspiring to kill anti-Morsi protesters.

Police dismantled the main stage near the mosque in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City, the official MENA news agency said. An AP reporter saw hundreds of protesters leaving the sit-in site carrying their personal belongings.

Smoke clogged the sky above Cairo and fires smoldered on the streets, which were lined with charred poles and tarps after several tents were burned.

The Health Ministry said 149 people were killed and 1,403 injured across Egypt, but it did not immediately provide a breakdown.

In imposing the state of emergency, the government ordered the armed forces to support the police in restoring law and order and protect state facilities. The nighttime curfew affects Cairo and 10 provinces.

Morsi has been held at an undisclosed location. Other Brotherhood leaders have been charged with inciting violence or conspiring in the killing of protesters.

The pro-Morsi Anti-Coup alliance claimed security forces used live ammunition, but the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said its forces only used tear gas and that they came under fire from the camp.

The Interior Ministry statement also warned that forces would deal firmly with protesters who were acting “irresponsibly,” suggesting that it would respond in kind if its men are fired upon. It said it would guarantee safe passage to all who want to leave the Nasr City site but would arrest those wanted for questioning by prosecutors.

The Health Ministry said 149 people were killed and 1,403 injured across Egypt, but it did not immediately provide a breakdown.

Two journalists were among the dead — Mick Deane, 61, a cameraman for British broadcaster Sky News, and Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, 26, a reporter for the Gulf News, a state-backed newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, the news organizations reported. Both had been reported to be shot.

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