Protesters torch Cairo building after bloodbath
16 August, 2013
CAIRO: Supporters of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood stormed and torched a government building in Cairo on Thursday, while families tried to identify hundreds of mutilated bodies piled in a Cairo mosque a day after they were shot dead by the security forces.
Egypt's health ministry says 578 people were killed and thousands wounded in the worst day of civil violence in the modern history of the most populous Arab state.
Brotherhood supporters say the death toll is far higher, with hundreds of bodies as yet uncounted by the authorities, whose troops and police crushed protests seeking the return of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.
State television quoted the Interior Ministry as saying the security forces would again use live ammunition to counter any attacks against themselves or public buildings. International condemnation rained down on Cairo's military-backed rulers for ordering the storming of pro-Morsi protest camps after dawn on Wednesday, six weeks after the army overthrew the country's first freely elected leader.
US President Barack Obama cancelled plans for upcoming military exercises with the Egyptian army, which Washington funds with $1.3 billion in annual aid.
"The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces," Obama said in an address from his vacation home on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard.
"We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest."
Obama's Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel later warned Egypt's army chief that, "the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our longstanding defence cooperation at risk".
Western diplomats have told Reuters that senior US and European officials had been in contact with Egypt's rulers until the final hour, pleading with them not to order a military crackdown on the protest camps, where thousands of Morsi's followers had been camped out since before he was toppled.
There were reports of protests on Thursday but no repeat of the previous day's bloodbath. In Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, hundreds marched, chanting: "We will come back again for the sake of our martyrs!"
Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said anger within the 85-year-old Islamist movement, which has millions of supporters across Egypt, was "beyond control".
"After the blows and arrests and killings that we are facing, emotions are too high to be guided by anyone," he said.
The Brotherhood has called on followers to march in Cairo later on Thursday, while funeral processions for those who died provide further potential flashpoints over the coming days. The US State Department called for the immediate lifting of the state of emergency on Thursday.
Whle most large Egyptian companies remained open and shipping sources said the Suez Canal and its ports were operating normally, the stock exchange was closed and the central bank told all banks to stay closed. Some international firms halted production in and around Cairo, including Electrolux and General Motors.
A military source said that while sit-ins like the main one outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo would no longer be tolerated, marches may be permitted in spite of the state of emergency.
In other examples of international condemnation, French President Francois Hollande summoned the Egyptian ambassador to demand an immediate halt to the crackdown.
"The head of state asserted that everything must be done to avoid civil war," the Elysee Palace said in a statement.
In Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called for the UN Security Council to convene quickly and act after what he described as a massacre in Egypt.
"I am calling on Western countries. You remained silent in Gaza, you remained silent in Syria ... You are still silent on Egypt. So how come you talk about democracy, freedom, global values and human rights?" he told a news conference.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on all sides to "step back from the brink of disaster". Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge, said the death toll pointed to "an excessive, even extreme use of force against demonstrators".
But the United Arab Emirates, one of several Gulf Arab states that collectively sent $12 billion to fund the interim government, expressed support for the crackdown, saying the Egyptian government had "exercised maximum self-control".
Back on the streets of Cairo, some spoke of their despair and their fear for the future.