eMediaWorld.com: Egypt’s Interim Vice President ElBaradei resigns while clashes across Egypt leave more than 270 dead
EGYPT – Mohamed ElBaradei, the No. 2 man in Egypt’s embattled interim government, abruptly resigned Wednesday in an apparent split with the nation’s leader, as fighting intensified between security forces and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a resignation letter sent to Interim President Adly Mansour as the day’s death toll from clashes throughout Egypt mounted, ElBaradei cited “decisions I do not agree with” regarding the government’s crackdown on the political turmoil which began on July 3 with the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi, Reuters reports.
“It has become difficult for me to continue bearing responsibility for decisions that I do not agree with and whose consequences I fear,” ElBaradei wrote. “I cannot bear the responsibility for one drop of blood.”
Egypt’s Health Ministry said 278 people were killed in violence on Wednesday throughout the country, including 235 civilians.
The casualties were mostly in Cairo where police in riot gear bulldozed two protest camps that had been the flashpoint of growing unrest. The state news agency MENA quoted a spokesman saying over 1,400 people were wounded, according to Reuters. Sky News cameraman Mick Deane and Gulf News reporter Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz were among the dead, which included 43 policemen.
The violence prompted Mansour to declare a month-long state of emergency and curfew on Cairo and 10 provinces, ordering the armed forces to support the police in efforts to restore law and order and protect state facilities.
“We will not allow any other sit-in in any square in any place in the country,’” Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said Wednesday on a televised news conference, Reuters reports.
The White House and several European leaders criticized the crackdown.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, speaking at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where President Obama is vacationing, said the world is watching what is happening in Egypt and it is “time for them to get back on a path of respecting the basic rights of their people.”
Secretary of State John Kerry says the violence in Egypt is deplorable and is a serious blow to reconciliation efforts. He says it runs counter to Egyptians’ aspirations for peace.
Kerry says Egypt’s interim leaders must take a step back and calm the situation to avoid further deaths. He also says the U.S. strongly opposes a return to a state of emergency law and that should end as soon as possible.
Kerry says he spoke with Egypt’s foreign minister and believes the path to a resolution is still open.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, which backs Morsi, claimed that more than 500 protesters were killed and some 9,000 wounded in the two camps, but those figures could not be confirmed and nothing in Associated Press footage or local TV networks suggested such a high death toll.
Army troops did not take part in the two Cairo operations, but provided security. Police and army helicopters hovered over both sites as plumes of smoke rose over the city skyline hours after the police launched the simultaneous actions shortly after 7 a.m. local time.
“At 7 a.m. they came. Helicopters from the top and bulldozers from below. They smashed through our walls. Police and soldiers, they fired tear gas at children,” Saleh Abdulaziz, a 39-year-old teacher, told Reuters.”They continued to fire at protesters even when we begged them to stop.”
A Reuters correspondent said pools of blood were everywhere, with dozens of people lying in the street after suffering bullet and birdshot wounds.
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, inside the sprawling campus of Cairo University and the zoo.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene said security forces were chasing the protesters inside the zoo. At one point, a dozen protesters, mostly men with beards wearing traditional Islamist garb, were seen handcuffed and sitting on a sidewalk under guard outside the university campus. The private ONTV network showed firearms and rounds of ammunition allegedly seized from protesters there.
Security forces later stormed the larger camp in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City.
An Associated Press television video journalist there said he could hear the screams of women as a cloud of white smoke hung over the protest encampment. He said a bulldozer was removing mounds of sand bags and brick walls built earlier by the protesters as a defense line in their camp.
An alliance of pro-Morsi groups said the 17-year-old daughter of senior Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed el-Beltagy, Asmaa Mohammed el-Beltagy, was killed in the Nasr City raid.
Islam Tawfiq, a Brotherhood member at the Nasr City sit-in, said that the camp’s medical center was filled with dead bodies and that the injured included children.
“No one can leave and those who do are either arrested or beaten up,” he told the Associated Press.
The pro-Morsi Anti-Coup alliance claimed that security forces used live ammunition in the raid, but the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said its forces only used tear gas and that they came under fire from protesters.
The Anti-Coup Alliance also said in a statement that 25 were killed at the Nasr City site, while the Muslim Brotherhood claims that 30 people had died there.
The Interior Ministry warned that forces would deal firmly with protesters who were acting “irresponsibly,” suggesting that it would respond in kind if its men are fired upon. It said it would guarantee safe passage to all who want to leave the Nasr City site but would arrest those wanted for questioning by prosecutors.
Elsewhere in Cairo, police fired tear gas to disperse Morsi supporters who wanted to join the Nasr City camp after it came under attack. State TV also reported that a police captain had been abducted by pro-Morsi protesters in the area, but there was no official statement about that.
El-Beltagy called on the police and army troops to mutiny against their commanders and on Egyptians to take to the streets to show their disapproval of the raids.
“Oh, Egyptian people, your brothers are in the square … Are you going to remain silent until the genocide is completed?” el-Beltagy said.
Officials said Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref, chief theologian Abdel-Rahman el-Bar and hard-line cleric Safwat Hegazy, who is close to the Brotherhood, were arrested on Wednesday. Egypt’s interior minister said senior Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian and el-Beltagy have not been arrested yet, despite earlier reports quoting officials saying otherwise.
Regional television networks were showing images of collapsed tents and burning tires at both sites, with ambulances on standby. They were also showing protesters being arrested and led away by black-clad policemen.
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said a total of 200 protesters have been arrested from both sites.
Other clashes broke out between Morsi supporters and security forces in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, the Nile Delta provinces of Beheira, Sharqiya and Gharbiyah and in the oasis region of Fayoum southwest of Cairo.
In the town of Marsa Maturh, along Egypt’s northwest coast, police fired tear gas to break up hundreds of stone-throwing protesters in front of the regional government’s headquarters, Reuters reports.
Churches belonging to Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians were torched in three southern provinces — Minya, Assiut and Sohag. In the city of Bani Suef south of Cairo, protesters set three police cars on fire. Farther south in the Islamist stronghold of Assiut, police used tear gas to disperse thousands of Morsi supporters gathered in the city center.
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.
An official who declined to be named told Reuters that the banks and the Egypt’s stock exchange will remain closed on Thursday.
Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, had just completed one year in office when he was toppled. He has largely been held incommunicado, but was visited by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and an African delegation. Ashton reported that he was well and had access to television and newspapers.
Several bids by the United States, the European Union and Gulf Arab states to reconcile the two sides in Egypt in an inclusive political process have failed, with the Brotherhood insisting that Morsi must first be freed along with several of the group’s leaders who have been detained in connection with incitement of violence.
The trial of the Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammed Badie, and his powerful deputy Khairat el-Shater on charges of conspiring to kill protesters is due to start later this month. Badie is on the run, but el-Shater is in detention. Four others are standing trial with them on the same charges.