Security forces have moved in on two Cairo protest camps set up by supporters of Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi, launching a crackdown that quickly turned into a bloodbath with dozens dead.
Conflicting reports have emerged over the number of people killed on Wednesday. However, Al Jazeera’s correspondent counted 94 bodies in Rabaa al-Adawiya’s makeshift hospital, while some members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood said the death toll was as high as 2,200, with about 10,000 injured.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the Brotherhood’s figure.
Ammar Beltagi, the son of Mohammad Beltagi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, told Al Jazeera his 17-year-old sister, Asmaa, was shot and killed in the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in in Nasr City.
Two journalists were also killed while covering the violence on Wednesday. Mick Deane, a cameraman for the UK-based Sky News channel, and Habiba Abd Elaziz, a reporter for the UAE-based Xpress newspaper, died from gunshot wounds.
The Health Ministry has put the figure at 56 people killed, including six members of the security forces, and a further 526 people injured. At least 66 security forces were injured.
Live footage from Cairo on Wednesday morning showed smoke engulfing Nahda Square, the smaller of the two sit-ins based in Giza, amid reports of tear gas and birdshots being used on supporters of the deposed president.
By mid-morning, the Interior Ministry said security forces had “total control” over Nahda Square, and that “police forces had managed to remove most of the tents” in the area. Security forces had blocked all access to the protest camp.
In an afternoon press conference, the cabinet media adviser thanked the security forces for “exercising self-control and high-level professionalism in dispersing the sit-ins,” and held the Muslim Brotherhood responsible for “escalation and violence”.
Tear gas and live shots
Witnesses said that after firing tear gas into the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in, pandemonium struck among the thousands of protesters who had set up camp there soon after Morsi was ousted by the army on July 3.
Protesters have camped in Cairo demanding the reinstatement of Morsi, who was country’s first democratically elected president and his Freedom and Justice Party was the largest political group in the now dissolved parliament.
Clashes quickly erupted between protesters and security forces on one side of the camp, with automatic fire reverberating across the square. It was not immediately clear who was shooting.
This battle is much bigger than what you're seeing and the casualties. This is a fight for the future of the country, and something that will determine the course of the Egyptian revolution that has been going on for two years now.
Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said: “This battle is much bigger than what you’re seeing and the casualties. This is a fight for the future of the country, and something that will determine the course of the Egyptian revolution that has been going on for two years now.
“No one expected this to be an easy operation. It became very clear that both sides were engaged in a battle of wills and a dangerous game of brinkmanship.”
Television footage showed the injured being carried to a makeshift medical centre as well as police dragging away protesters, who had defied numerous ultimatums by the army-installed authorities to end their demonstrations.
Police barred journalists not already in the camp from entering.
In response to the security operation, the Muslim Brotherhood urged Egyptians to take to the streets across the country to “stop a massacre”.
Al Jazeera’s D. Parvaz, reporting from a makeshift hospital near the Rabaa sit-in, said that “no one is willing to give up, and that the gunshots are not going to scare them”.
She said the hospital, which has been set up in the entrance of a local mosque, has been receiving a steady stream of wounded people.
“They are bringing in a steady stream of gunshot victims, of all ages, with wounds everywhere.”
“At least four people have died from their wounds in the period I’ve been here.”
Meanwhile, reports emerged that at least two police stations in Cairo had been stormed, and several other government buildings were attacked.
State television reported that police were on high alert, with prisoners and ammunition being moved to secure facilities, while the Information Ministry called on people to help protect government institutions and police centres which were under attack.
International condemnation of the violence was swift.
The European Union said reports that protesters had been killed were “extremely worrying” and called for restraint from Egyptian authorities.
Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul branded the crackdown as “unacceptable”.
Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, urged supporters of Egypt’s interim government, as well as supporters of Morsi to renounce violence.