First Posted: 8/14/2013
CAIRO — Riot police swept in with armored vehicles, bulldozers and helicopters Wednesday to clear two sprawling encampments of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, sparking running street battles elsewhere in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. At least 56 people were killed, more than half during the assaults on the protest vigils.
Smoke clogged the sky and fires smoldered on the streets, which were lined with charred poles and tarps after several tents were burned. The smaller camp was cleared relatively quickly, but clashes were ongoing at the main site near a mosque that has served as the epicenter of the pro-Morsi campaign.
Clashes also broke out elsewhere in Cairo and other provinces across the country as Islamist anger over the crackdown spread, with police stations, government buildings and Coptic Christian churches attacked or set ablaze.
The assault came after days of warnings by the military-backed interim administration that replaced Morsi after he was ousted in a July 3 coup. The two sit-in camps at two major intersections on opposite sides of the Egyptian capital began in late June to show support for Morsi. Protesters there have demanded his reinstatement.
The Egyptian Central Bank instructed commercial banks to close branches in areas affected by the chaos, a sign of alarm that the violence could spiral out of control. The landmark Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum also were closed to visitors for the day as a precaution, according to the Ministry of Antiquities.
The turmoil was the latest chapter a bitter standoff between Morsi’s supporters led by the Muslim Brotherhood and the interim leadership that has assumed the helm of the Arab world’s most populous country. The military ousted Morsi after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to call for him to step down, accusing him of giving the Brotherhood undue influence and failing to implement vital reforms or bolster the ailing economy.
The coup provoked similar protests by Morsi’s backers after he and other Brotherhood leaders were detained as divisions have deepened, dealing a major blow to hopes of a return to stability after the 2011 revolution that led to the ouster of autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.
The deposed president has been held at an undisclosed location. Other Brotherhood leaders have been charged with inciting violence or conspiring in the killing of protesters.
“The world cannot sit back and watch while innocent men, women and children are being indiscriminately slaughtered. The world must stand up to the military junta’s crime before it is too late,” said a statement by the Brotherhood’s media office in London emailed to the AP in Cairo.
The smaller of the two camps was cleared of protesters by late morning, with most of them taking refuge in the nearby Orman botanical gardens on the campus of Cairo University and the zoo.