Cairo: Dozens of Mohammad Mursi’s supporters were killed on Saturday in Egypt’s capital as violence erupted at mass rallies for and against the ousted Islamist president, medics and the Muslim Brotherhood said.
The bloodshed came hours after the military-backed interior minister, Mohammad Ebrahim, warned a long-running sit-in in Cairo by Mursi loyalists would be ended “in the framework of the law”.
The army ousted Mursi in a popularly backed coup on July 3, and tens of thousands of supporters from his Brotherhood have since been camped outside the city’s Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque in a defiant bid to get him reinstated.
At least 75 Mursi supporters were killed in clashes with police and another 1,000 wounded on the road to Cairo airport on Saturday morning, doctors at an Islamist-organised field hospital said.
A Brotherhood leader, Murad Ali, told AFP that police had fired live rounds, but the official Mena news agency cited a security official it did not identify as denying the police used any live bullets.
Running battles broke out at dawn on the road to Cairo international airport, with police firing tear gas at stone-throwing protesters, Mena said. Buckshot was fired, but it was unclear from which side.
Thousands of supporters and opponents of the coup also took to the streets of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, sparking fierce clashes that killed seven people and wounded 194.
The bloodshed came as the interim interior minister said the military-backed government would move swiftly to break up the Islamist protest camp in the Nasr City district of Cairo.
“There will be decisions from the prosecutor soon, and this situation will be ended,” Mohammad Ebrahim told satellite television channel Al Hayat.
Army chief General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, who orchestrated the coup, had called for a mass show of support on Friday for a crackdown on “terrorism”. Hundreds of thousands of anti-Mursi protesters obliged and gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and around the Itihadiya presidential palace. A spokesman for army-installed president Adly Mansour said the numbers “affirmed the rejection of terrorism,” Mena said.
But the Islamist Anti-Coup Coalition said Friday’s turnout by its supporters proved that those who took part in the rallies “reject the bloody, military fascist coup that wants to set the wheel of history back”. “We believe the next two days will be decisive in the history of Egypt,” the group said.
The violence came after the authorities charged Mursi with murder and formally remanded him in custody for 15 days. He had been held without charge since hours after his ouster. Mursi stands accused of the “premeditated murder of some prisoners, officers and soldiers” when he broke out of prison during the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, Mena said.
The ousted Islamist was also suspected of conspiring to “storm prisons and destroy them... allowing prisoners to escape, including himself”. On June 23, a court said Hamas militants facilitated the escape of prisoners during the 18-day uprising that forced out Mubarak.
Detention orders of the type issued by the court against Mursi are usually followed by moving a suspect to prison. The military has so far kept Mursi’s whereabouts secret to avoid attracting protests by his supporters. Jihad Al Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman, denounced the detention order, saying Mubarak’s regime was “signalling ‘we’re back in full force.’”
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country of 84 million people, has been rocked by violence that has killed some 200 people since the coup. The army has said there will be no reneging on a roadmap to fresh elections next year.
But the Brotherhood and allied Islamist groups have rejected the interim government and vowed to press their protests until Mursi is reinstated. Western governments are watching the crisis in Egypt with growing unease, fearing the military may be angling for a prolonged power grab.
The United States has decided not to label the army’s overthrow of Mursi a “coup”, a move that would trigger an automatic freeze of some $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) in aid, a US official said. Nevertheless Washington on Wednesday suspended the delivery of four promised F-16 fighter jets.
Egypt’s military is also facing a low-level insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel. Militants killed a civilian and wounded five soldiers in attacks in the region on Friday.