Thursday 21 September 2017

Egyptian army accused of killing 100 protesters

Fatal clashes mark worst weekend of violence since Mubarak ousted

Magdy Samaan in Cairo

Egypt's military rulers were accused last night of killing more than 100 supporters of former president Mohammed Morsi in the worst night of bloodshed since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood claimed that at least 120 people had died, and hundreds more were injured, when the army opened fire with live rounds. Some of the pro-Morsi demonstrators had been taking part in a sit-in protest at a mosque in Cairo.

Hospital officials, however, put the death toll at about 50.

Reporters saw the aftermath of the violence firsthand at a makeshift field hospital close to the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, where dozens of corpses were laid out in a room and blood soaked the carpets.

Hundreds of wounded lay resting and groaning on the floor. Doctors and volunteers sought to treat the injured with minimal first-aid kits.

Many aimed chants at General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the armed forces, saying: "The people want to execute the butcher."

Gehad El-Haddad, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, said the army had been "shooting to kill", rather than "shooting to wound" when trying to disperse the protesters.

"The bullet wounds are in the head and chest," he said. Witnesses also reported snipers firing from rooftops.

Egypt's health ministry, however, put the death toll much lower, while security forces insisted they had not used live fire, only tear gas, and blamed the clashes on the Islamists.

The confrontation, in the early hours of yesterday, had followed a day when both pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators had held two huge rival protests in Cairo.

It came as the climax to weeks of anger over the ousting of Mr Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, in a military coup.

Three weeks ago, 50 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were killed when the army opened fire outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.

But this weekend's violence, the worst since Mr Mubarak was overthrown as president during the revolution in 2011, was markedly worse and drew international condemnation.

The threat of violence had been apparent since last Wednesday, when Gen al-Sisi first called for mass rallies on Friday to give Egypt's new military rulers a mandate to fight "violence and terrorism".

Supporters of Mr Morsi, who was ousted on July 3, took his words as a disturbing coded message that they would no longer be tolerated, and that their sit-ins and rallies around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in east Cairo would be broken up.

On Friday, the storm broke. Conflicting reports emerged yesterday as to the exact course of events, but officials claimed the Muslim Brotherhood supporters had tried to move away from the mosque, along the airport road towards the military parade ground where President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981.

"The crowds were trying to push out of Rabaa and block the road," one policeman said, standing on a street corner littered with rocks from the fight. "My troops asked them to go back and they refused and so we fired tear gas. We did not use live ammunition."

Several witnesses at the scene, however, gave a much different account yesterday.

One group of Mr Morsi's supporters said some of the protesters had tried to march toward a nearby overpass, when they were met by a volley of tear gas from the police.

They said the demonstrators had responded by hurling rocks and stones at the security forces, before the police then opened fire.

"There were snipers on the rooftops, I could hear the bullets whizzing past me," said Ahmed el Nashar, 34, a media consultant for the Muslim Brotherhood, choking back his tears. "People were just dropping."

Mahmoud Ibrahim, a member of the brotherhood involved in the protests, said: "They kill us and then accuse us of being terrorists."

Aya Alaa, 28, was among those who tried to help the wounded. She said: "First, we had a field hospital but that was not enough for the casualties. So we used the media centre, but that was not enough. So we pushed sheltering women from the remaining mosque and used that, too."

Outside the mosque yesterday, thousands gathered to pray, but their prayers were broken up by ambulances driving through the crowds.

Leaning out of the window of his car, a man pulled up alongside the kerb to give his verdict. "This is like a war. Sisi is killing people in the street who have nothing but an opinion," he said.

Mr Morsi was removed by the military when, in the eyes of many, he became too authoritarian.

Yesterday, the country's interim government announced that he would be taken to the same prison which holds Mr Mubarak.

Adly Mansour, the interim president, said that his government seeks to include everyone, but it will not accept lawlessness, blocked roads and attacks on state institutions. He urged the pro-Morsi protesters to go home, promising they would not be pursued or arrested.

© Telegraph

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