CAIRO: Riot police backed by armored vehicles, bulldozers and helicopters Wednesday swept away two encampments of supporters of ousted President Mohammad Morsi, setting off running street battles in Cairo and other Egyptian cities.
At least 278 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured nationwide, many of them in the crackdown on the protest sites.
Vice President Mohammad ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader in the interim government, resigned in protest over the assaults as the military-backed leadership imposed a monthlong state of emergency and nighttime curfew.
Clashes broke out elsewhere in the capital and other provinces as Islamist anger spread over the dispersal of the six-week-old sit-ins of Morsi supporters that divided Egypt.
The Health Ministry said 235 civilians were killed and more than 2,000 injured, while Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim said 43 policemen died in the assault.
Health Ministry spokesman said the 235 figure was separate from 43 policemen reported killed by the Interior Minister. Ibrahim said Morsi supporters attacked 21 police stations and seven Coptic Christian churches across the nation, and assaulted the Finance Ministry in Cairo, occupying its ground floor.
The assault to take control of the two sit-in sites came after days of warnings by the interim administration that replaced Morsi after he was ousted in a July 3 coup.
The camps on opposite sides of the Egyptian capital to show support for Morsi began in late June.
The smaller camp was cleared relatively quickly, but it took hours for police to take control of the main sit-in site, which is near the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque that has served as the epicenter of the pro-Morsi campaign.
Several senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who were wanted by police were detained after officers stormed the camp near the mosque, according to security officials and state television. Among those seized were Brotherhood leaders Mohammad al-Beltagy and Essam al-Erian, and hard-line preacher Safwat Hegazy – all wanted by prosecutors to answer allegations of inciting violence and conspiring to kill anti-Morsi protesters.
Police dismantled the main stage near the mosque in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City, the official MENA news agency said.
Smoke clogged the sky above Cairo and fires smoldered on the streets, which were lined with charred poles and tarps after several tents were burned.
In imposing the state of emergency, the government ordered the armed forces to support the police in restoring law and order and protect state facilities. The nighttime curfew affects Cairo and 10 provinces.
The turmoil was the latest chapter in a bitter standoff between Morsi’s supporters and the interim leadership that took over the Arab world’s most populous country. The military ousted Morsi after millions of Egyptians massed in the streets at the end of June to call for him to step down, accusing him of giving the Brotherhood undue influence and failing to implement vital reforms or bolster the ailing economy.
The coup provoked similar protests by Morsi’s backers after he and other Brotherhood leaders were detained as divisions have deepened, dealing a major blow to hopes of a return to stability after the 2011 revolution that toppled autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi has been held at an undisclosed location.
“The world cannot sit back and watch while innocent men, women and children are being indiscriminately slaughtered. The world must stand up to the military junta’s crime before it is too late,” said a statement by the Brotherhood’s media office in London emailed to the Associated Press.
ElBaradei, a former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, was named only last month as interim President Adly Mansour’s deputy for foreign relations.
In his resignation letter, he wrote that he was not prepared to be held responsible for a “single drop of blood,” and that only more violence would result, according to a copy that was emailed to the Associated Press. He said Egypt was more polarized than when he took office.
The smaller of the two protest camps was cleared of demonstrators by late morning, with most of them taking refuge in the nearby Orman botanical gardens on the campus of Cairo University and the zoo.
Security forces later stormed the larger camp near the mosque in the Cairo district of Nasr City.
The pro-Morsi Anti-Coup alliance claimed security forces used live ammunition, 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 the camp.
The Interior Ministry statement also warned that forces would deal firmly with protesters who were acting “irresponsibly,” suggesting that it would respond in kind if its men were 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.Army troops did not take part in the two operations, but provided security at the locations. Police and army helicopters hovered over both sites hours after the police launched the simultaneous actions shortly after 7 a.m.
An alliance of pro-Morsi groups said Asmaa Mohammad al-Baltagy, the 17-year-old daughter of the senior Brotherhood figure detained by police, was shot and killed. Her brother, Ammar, confirmed her death on his Twitter account.
Two journalists were among the dead. Both had been reported to be shot.
A security official said 200 protesters were arrested at both sites. Several men with their hands raised could be seen being led away by black-clad police.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm claimed that more than 500 protesters had been killed and some 9,000 wounded in the two camps, but those figures could not be confirmed and nothing in the video from AP or local TV networks suggested such a high death toll.
Police fired tear gas elsewhere in Cairo 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 Morsi supporters in the area, but there was no official statement about that.
Islam Tawfiq, a Brotherhood member at the Nasr City sit-in, said the camp’s medical center was filled with dead and that the injured included children. “No one can leave and those who do are either arrested or beaten up,” he told AP.
Churches belonging to Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians were torched in four provinces south of Cairo – Minya, Assiut, Sohag and the desert oasis Fayoum. 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 pro-Morsi crowds in the city center.