Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Egyptian security forces send in bulldozers to clear pro-Mursi protesers, early deaths

Ambulances try to pass a row of tanks to meet the injured in Rabba.

Ambulances try to pass a row of tanks to meet the injured in Rabba. Photo: Ruth Pollard

Cairo: Egypt's security forces have begun clearing the major pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests in Cairo, using bulldozers, with early reports of up to 120 dead.

After weeks of threats from Egypt's military-backed interim government and the failure of international mediators to negotiate a way through the political crisis gripping the country, the security forces moved on the protesters in two camps at Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque and Cairo University early Wednesday morning in Cairo.

Smoke rises during clashes between riot police and pro-Muslim Brotherhood groups at Rabba el Adwia Square in Cairo.

Smoke rises during clashes between riot police and pro-Muslim Brotherhood groups at Rabba el Adwia Square in Cairo. Photo: Reuters

The Ministry of the Interior claimed the smaller camp, at Cairo University, had been cleared by 9am local time, according to CNN, and that police were now tightening their grip on the neighbourhood. It has reportedly denied live ammunition was used.

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Egypt's health ministry reported at least five deaths while the Muslim Brotherhood claimed 120 of its supporters had been killed, and there were fears the toll would climb much higher as the long-feared confrontation between the security forces and demonstrators unfolded.

The security forces had announced their intention to clear the protests via loudspeakers and dropped leaflets from helicopters urging protesters to leave the sites. But many protesters remained defiant, with whole families living in the tents that line the roads outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque in Nasr City.

As the operation began, locals reported hearing live fire near the Rabaa Mosque where supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Mursi have been camped since June 28, their numbers swelling to the tens of thousands at some points over the last six weeks.

Black smoke from burning tyres was billowing into the sky, helicopters were hovering overheard and security forces were reported to be firing tear gas at the protesters, who, although they had been preparing for this moment for weeks, were terrified it would turn into a bloodbath given the thousands and thousands of demonstrators at the site, including many children.

The Ministry of Interior released a statement after the operation started Wednesday morning, saying: "Upon the government's assignment to take necessary measures against the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins, and out of national responsibility to protect citizens' security, the security forces have started to take necessary measures to disperse both sit-ins.

"It will provide safe exit for protesters and will not pursue them, except those who are wanted by prosecutors. The ministry is keen not to shed any Egyptian blood," the statement says.

The protest camp at Nasr City has grown into a heavily fortified tent city, with large concrete barricades erected along the main road leading towards the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque.

Men holding iron pipes and wearing hard hats guarded the entrances to both Rabaa and the now-cleared protest site at al-Nahda near Cairo University at Giza.

But they were no match for the military bulldozers that were  trucked in to break up the protests — footage from al Jazeera showed the bulldozers running over the tents and destroying the protest camp at al-Nahda.

Nearly 300 people have been killed in violent attacks and street clashes since the overthrow of Dr Mursi on July 3, including 74 pro-Mursi supporters shot dead by security forces on July 27 and a further 51 killed in similar circumstances outside the Republican Guard headquarters on July 8.

There has also been ugly sectarian violence against Christians, who have been beaten and killed and their houses, shops and businesses burned to the ground in mob attacks that have left the country's Coptic minority — estimated to be around 10 per cent of the 85 million population — in constant fear of further reprisals.

Dr Mursi has been held at an undisclosed location since the army stepped in — they say in response to millions-strong public protests — and removed him from office on July 3.

His supporters say he is Egypt's democratically elected president and that the army's actions amounted to a coup and are demanding his immediate reinstatement.

On Sunday, interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi warned the government was determined to break up the sit-ins. The protesters had "broken all the limits of peacefulness", he said, listing a litany of crimes the demonstrators had allegedly committed, including incitement of violence, the use of weapons, blocking roads and detaining citizens.


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