Egypt: At least 70 people shot dead by security services during attack on Morsi supporters
Egyptian security forces shot and killed at least 70 supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi early on Saturday, according to the Muslim Brotherhood, just days after the military called for a popular mandate to address "violence and terrorism".
Gehad El-Haddad, spokesman for the Brotherhood said the shooting began just before pre-dawn morning prayers were due to take place on the fringes of a round-the-clock vigil staged by Morsi supporters near Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawia mosque, after the president was ousted by the army more than three weeks ago.
Morsi is currently being detained at an undisclosed location. Weeks of violence have followed his ousting, leaving more than 200 dead and laying bare divisions that have polarised the Arab world's most populous state.
"They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill," Haddad said. "The death toll might be much higher."
Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who played a central role in the ousting of Morsi following huge demonstrations against his year-long rule, called for Egyptians to rally on Friday to create a mandate for him to tackle "violence and terrorism".
Hundreds of thousands responded to his call, but Muslim Brotherhood supporters also staged retaliatory counter-rallies, demanding the reinstatement of Morsi, who was placed under investigation on Friday for a raft of crimes, including murder.
Al Jazeera's Egyptian television station reported that as many as 120 had been killed in the demonstrations and up to 4,500 injured, with journalists at the scene saying that firing could still be heard hours after the disruption began.
"I have been trying to make the youth withdraw for five hours. I can't. They are saying [they] have paid with their blood and they do not want to retreat," said Saad el-Hosseini, a senior Brotherhood politician.
"It is a first attempt to clear Rabaa al-Adawia," he added.
Supporters and opponents of Morsi held mass rival rallies across the country on Friday, bringing hundreds of thousands into the streets.
When asked what the strategy of the Brotherhood would be after the second mass killing of its supporters this month by security forces, Haddad said: "When there are divisions, we go to the ballot box."
Haddad said police started firing repeated rounds of teargas sometime after 3am local time at the protesters who had spilled out of the main area of the Rabaa sit-in and were on a main thoroughfare near to 6th October Bridge.
"Through the smog of the gas, the bullets started flying," he said. In addition to "special police forces in black uniforms" firing live rounds, he said that snipers shot from the roofs of a university, buildings in the area, and a bridge.
State news agency MENA quoted an unnamed security source as saying that only teargas was used to disperse protesters. He said no firearms were used.
Haddad said the pro-Morsi supporters had used rocks in an attempt to defend themselves. On the podium outside the Rabaa mosque, a speaker urged people to retreat from the gunfire, but "men stayed to defend themselves because women and children are inside the sit-in", he said.
It was the second time this month there had been a mass killing near Rabaa. On 8 July, 53 people died when armed men shot into a crowd after morning prayers close to a Republican Guard compound in the area.
"This is much more brutal because the Republican Guard looked like a tactical military operation. This one looks like a much more brutal aggression," Haddad said.
Egypt's army-installed interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, said on Friday that the month-old Cairo vigils by Morsi supporters would be "brought to an end, soon and in a legal manner", according to state-run al Ahram news.
Belfast Telegraph Digital