'So much tear gas it's hard to breath'
Hundreds of people are out on the street and tear gas fills the air at Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque where Egyptian security forces are clearing camps of pro-Mursi protesters. Ruth Pollard reports from Cairo.PT2M4S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2rwct 620 349 August 14, 2013
Nasr City: The streets of Cairo resembled a war zone, with heavy gunfire, tear gas and black billowing smoke coming from the main pro-Mursi protest camp, as security forces moved in to clear thousands of protesters. Scores of protesters were reported dead at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Nasr City and a second smaller protest site at Cairo University.
Army tanks and riot police were preventing anyone from entering Cairo’s Rabaa camp after the operation started. Crowds of angry pro-Mursi supporters gathered at the entrances, furious that the army had authorised the security action. Police fired volleys of tear gas canisters at the protesters, who were burning tyres and throwing rocks.
About lunchtime, the Egyptian army reportedly opened fire on the supporters of Dr Mursi, who were trying to join the Rabaa protest camp, according to a Reuters witness. The Reuters reporter said he saw about 20 people who had been shot in the legs by soldiers. The supporters had been been throwing stones and petrol bombs at Egyptian troops.
Ambulances try to pass a row of tanks to meet the injured in Rabba. Photo: Ruth Pollard
In these chaotic conditions it was impossible to confirm the toll of injured and dead. The military government, which described the protesters as terrorists, claimed seven had died and 26 injured; the Muslim Brotherhood claimed more than 200 of its supporters had been killed by midday in Cairo. Agence France-Presse reported at least 43 had been killed.
‘‘It is nasty inside, they are destroying our tents. We can’t breathe inside and many people are in hospital,’’ Murad Ahmed told Reuters. The early morning security operation came at 6am on Wednesday after weeks of threats from Egypt’s military-backed interim government and the failure of international mediators to negotiate a way through the political crisis gripping the country.
As the operation began, locals reported hearing gunfire near the Rabaa mosque, where supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Mursi have been camped since June 28, their numbers swelling to tens of thousands at some points over the past six weeks.
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood supporters run from tear gas fired by Egyptian police. Photo: AFP
Dr Mursi has been held at an undisclosed location since the army stepped in – they say in response to millions-strong public protests – and removed him from office on July 3. His supporters say he is Egypt’s democratically-elected president and that the army’s actions amounted to a coup. They are demanding his immediate reinstatement.
By 9am, the Ministry of the Interior claimed the smaller camp, at Cairo University, had been cleared, CNN said, and that police were tightening their grip on the neighbourhood. It reportedly denied live ammunition was used.
The security forces had announced their intention to clear the protests via loudspeakers, and dropped leaflets from helicopters urging protesters to leave the sites. However, many protesters remained defiant, with whole families living in the tents that line the roads outside the Rabaa mosque.
The Ministry of Interior released a statement after the operation began, saying: ‘‘Upon the government’s assignment to take necessary measures against the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins, and out of national responsibility to protect citizens’ security, the security forces have started to take necessary measures to disperse both sit-ins.
‘‘It will provide safe exit for protesters and will not pursue them, except those who are wanted by prosecutors. The ministry is keen not to shed any Egyptian blood,’’ the statement says.
Before the action, nearly 300 people had been killed in violent attacks and street clashes since the overthrow of Dr Mursi on July 3, including 74 pro-Mursi supporters shot dead by security forces on July 27 and a further 51 killed in similar circumstances outside the Republican Guard headquarters on July 8.