15 Aug 2013

Egypt faces the aftermath of a massacre

Channel 4 News reports on the chaos and bloodshed in Cairo where the death toll from the government crackdown on protest camps could be four times higher than reported.

The death toll could be four times higher than official estimates of 525, reports the Channel 4 News team from Cairo on Thursday.

In a day of bloodshed on Wednesday, Islamists clashed with police and troops who used bulldozers, teargas and live fire to clear out two Cairo sit-ins that had become a hub of Muslim Brotherhood resistance to the military after it deposed President Mohammed Morsi on July 3.

The violence spread quickly, and a health ministry official said 525 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured in fighting in Cairo, Alexandria and numerous towns and cities around the mostly Muslim nation of 84 million.

‘Bodies at Cairo mosque’

The bodies of close to 250 people killed in the violence are being held at a mosque in northeast Cairo, witnesses said, indicating the death toll may be higher.

A Reuters reporter counted 228 bodies, though an exact count was difficult because some were being moved and loaded into coffins for removal from the Imam mosque.

Read more: What's happening in Egypt? The key questions

Medics at the scene said the bodies had been moved straight from a nearby protest camp broken up by the police on Wednesday to the mosque, said Heba Morayef, Egypt director at Human Rights Watch, adding that she had counted 235 bodies.

“This indicates the toll will be higher,” she said.

Egypt unrest (R)

The bodies, mostly wrapped in white shrouds, are being held at the Imam mosque in northeast Cairo awaiting collection by relatives. Typically, Health Ministry casualty tolls include only bodies that have passed through hospitals.

The Egyptian presidency declared a state of emergency for a month on Wednesday, while a curfew will be in place in 11 provinces, including Cairo, Giza, Alexandria and other governorates.

Muslim Brotherhood fightback

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said the group would bring down the “military coup” but remained committed to peaceful activism.

Mr El-Haddad wrote on his Twitter feed: “We remain strong, defiant and resolved. We will push (forward) until we bring down this military coup.”

However Mr El-Haddad said that bloodshed has made it difficult for the Brotherhood to persuade its members to stick to peaceful resistance.

He added: “After the blows and arrests and killings that we are facing emotions are too high to be guided by anyone.”

The group said it planned to hold a march in Cairo on Thursday.

Egyptian authorities on Thursday referred 84 people from the city of Suez, including Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, to military prosecutors on charges of murder and burning churches, the state news agency reported.

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Meanwhile traffic started flowing through the area of Cairo on Thursday where supporters set up a protest camp at the heart of a power struggle between Islamists and the army-backed government, said a Reuters witness.

Erdogan calls for UN intervention

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called on Thursday for the UN Security Council to convene quickly and act after what he described as a massacre in Egypt.

“Those who remain silent in the face of this massacre are as guilty as those who carried it out. The U.N. Security Council must convene quickly,” Mr Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara.

“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 asked.

Turkey has emerged as one of the fiercest international critics of what it has repeatedly called an “unacceptable coup” after Egypt’s military ousted President Morsi last month.

Read more: Egypt leaders deny selective justice

Prime Minister Erdogan made no mention of Arab countries, who have remained largely silent over Wednesday’s crackdown. Gulf Arab states, which see Egypt as a strategic ally against any threat from non-Arab Iran, celebrated President Morsi’s departure with palpable relief.

The United States condemned Wednesday’s bloody crackdown and urged Egypt’s authorities to respect basic human rights, while European leaders called for restraint and a return to dialogue.

But Prime Minister Erdogan, who recently faced street protests calling for his own democratically-elected government to quit, accused the West of double standards in failing to condemn President Morsi’s ouster.

“Those who ignored this coup, those who could not criticise the coup, and those who even failed to display the honour to call the coup ‘a coup’ are also responsible for the killing of those innocent children,” Erdogan said on Thursday.

The United Nations, the United States and other powers have stopped short of denouncing President Morsi’s overthrow as a military coup; to do so might trigger automatic sanctions.

But Western allies warned Egypt’s military leaders right up to the last minute against using force to crush protest sit-ins by Mursi’s supporters, Western diplomats said.

West warned Egypt’s Sisi

Western allies are said to have warned Egypt’s military leaders right up to the last minute against using force to crush protest sit-ins by supporters of the ousted Islamist President Morsi, arguing they could ill afford the political and economic damage.

The United States and the European Union continued to send coordinated messages to army commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Interim Vice President Mohamed El-Baradei during the four-day Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday that ended on Sunday, pleading for a negotiated settlement, Western diplomats said.

“We had a political plan that was on the table, that had been accepted by the other side (the Muslim Brotherhood),” said EU envoy Bernardino Leon, who co-led the mediation effort with US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

Read more: Violence shows who really runs Egypt - Lindsey Hilsum

“They could have taken this option. So all that has happened today was unnecessary,” Mr Leon said. The last plea was conveyed to the Egyptian authorities on Tuesday, hours before the crackdown was unleashed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry added: “In the past week, at every occasion… we and others have urged the government to respect the rights of free assembly and of free expression, and we have also urged all parties to resolve this impasse peacefully and underscored that demonstrators should avoid violence and incitement.”

Some of the toughest US messages were delivered personally to Sisi in almost daily telephone calls by Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, diplomats said.