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Egypt spreads blame for protest camp deaths

Report says Cairo police use excessive force when 624 people died on one day last August, but says they were provoked.

Last updated: 06 Mar 2014 05:24
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An Egyptian government inquiry has said police used excessive force in a deadly crackdown on supporters of the country's ousted president last year - but it also concluded that protesters started and escalated the violence.

The report by the National Council for Human Rights, released on Wednesday, investigated the events of August 14, when troops moved in on weeks-long sit-ins held by Mohamed Morsi's supporters in two camps in Cairo.

The report found that 624 civilians and eight police died in the operation to clear the camps, and that most of the deaths were reported at the camp near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, in Nasr City. It concluded that police had failed to maintain restraint and did not allow protesters to leave the area quickly enough.

The National Council, however, concluded that the civilian deaths were partially due to protest organisers allowing gunmen into the camp, and that the violence began when a policeman was killed by shots fired from a mosque.

"While the security force had the necessary reasons to use firearms ... it failed to maintain self-restraint at times, and proportionality in the intensity of gunfire,'' said council member Nasser Amin, reading the report's conclusions at a news conference.

"The security forces had identified a safe corridor for the protesters to use ... but they failed to secure it'' until after the clashes subsided, referring to evacuation routes the troops urged protesters to take.

President toppled

The camp crackdowns came weeks after Morsi was overthrown by the military following days of mass protests against his rule. Morsi supporters set up two main protest camps in Cairo - one outside the Rabaa mosque and another outside Cairo University.

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The Rabaa protest camp was the largest, and was used by the leadership of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. Local residents complained the camp disrupted their lives, and some reported incidents of abuse by protesters. The council said forensics teams had documented 11 cases of deadly torture in and near the two camps.

Security forces moved in on the camps early in the morning after repeatedly urging them to disperse, and the dispersal was televised live.

The then-prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, said he regretted the bloodshed, though he offered no apologies for moving against the camps, saying protesters were given ample warnings to leave and that he had tried foreign mediation efforts.

The report said the dispersal sparked wider violence in the days that followed, when suspected Morsi supporters set fire to churches and attacked police stations.

It said those attacks killed 686 people, including 64 police officers.

No police videos

The council's final report will be issued in two weeks, Amin said. In the presentation on Wednesday, videos obtained by the council from witnesses showed gunmen inside the protest camps. Other videos showed gunmen in civilian clothes.

The presentation, however, showed no videos of use of excessive force by security forces.

Gamal Eid, an independent human rights activist, said the report was "bestowing legitimacy" on the crackdown by dividing the blame on both sides. He said the council recommended further investigation instead of assigning blame - a task he said was part of its mandate.

He said the report drew a parallel between security forces, eight of whom were killed, and the 624 protesters who lost their lives. "This is falsification and misleading,''  Eid said. "Regrettably, state human rights bodies act to beautify the image of governments.''

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