Egypt crisis: Cairo quiet but tense as death toll rises

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen says there is a sense Cairo is "holding its breath"

Cairo is reported quiet but tense after a crackdown on Islamists which left hundreds dead and drew international condemnation.

At least 525 people died when Egyptian security forces stormed two camps which supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi set up in the city last month.

A state of emergency was declared after the bloodiest day in Egypt since the pro-democracy uprising two years ago.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the events were "deplorable".

They were "a real blow to reconciliation efforts" he added, while EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also criticised the use of force.

Egyptians awoke to a frightening and uncertain future, the BBC's Bethany Bell reports from Cairo.

At the scene

Hundreds of people gathered at the mosque this morning, mostly relatives of those killed. There are dozens of bodies wrapped in white shrouds inside the mosque. I counted 70 bodies and then I stopped when I realised this was less than half.

Relatives' nerves are frayed as they try to figure out how they can bury their loved ones while ensuring they get proper documentation. Families tell me that hospitals refused to provide documents about the real cause of death.

There is an upside-down burnt-out car outside the mosque. People here say it belonged to a policeman who passed by and tried to shoot. He was taken away.

While we were here, we heard gunshots as a military vehicle sped by, apparently shooting in the air to clear the street. Some people are now setting up barricades to the block the roads around the mosque.

Even after the state of emergency curfew on Thursday morning, there was very little traffic on the central streets and the bridges across the Nile, she says.

'Serious blow'

The BBC's Khaled Ezzelarab reported seeing at least 140 bodies wrapped in shrouds at Eman mosque close to the main protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

Refuse collectors could be seen clearing the remains of the camp, while soldiers dismantled scaffolding. Charred posters of Mr Morsi lay in heaps of debris.

The demonstrators had been demanding the reinstatement of Mr Morsi, who was removed by the military on 3 July.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which backed the sit-ins near the mosque and in Nahda Square, says the true number of people killed on Wednesday is more than 2,000.

Giving an update on the death toll, the military-backed interim government said 137 people had died near the mosque, 57 in Nahda Square and 29 in Helwan, in the south of the city. The other 198 deaths occurred in the provinces.

Wednesday's casualties

Demonstrators in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, hold posters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and dead protester Asmaa El-Beltagi outside the Egyptian embassy, 15 August
  • Official death toll: 525, with at least 137 killed near Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque; 57 at Cairo's Nahda Square; 29 in Cairo suburb of Helwan; 198 in other provinces; 43 security personnel
  • BBC correspondent saw more than 140 bodies from the clashes at Rabaa al-Adawiya
  • Muslim Brotherhood says more than 2,000 people were killed
  • The dead include three journalists and a daughter of a Muslim Brotherhood leader, Asmaa El-Beltagi
  • Official figures speak of 3,572 injured across Egypt

At least 43 police officers are reportedly among the dead. A further 3,572 people were injured.

The Muslim Brotherhood is likely to continue with its protests, says BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

They waited 80 years to take power in Egypt and they feel that power was taken away from them unjustly, he adds.

Mr Kerry said Egypt's political reconciliation efforts had suffered a "serious blow".

"This is a pivotal moment for all Egyptians," he said. "The path toward violence leads only to greater instability, economic disaster and suffering."

The office of UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he regretted that the Egyptian authorities had chosen to use force while "the vast majority of the Egyptian people want their country to go forward peacefully in an Egyptian-led process towards prosperity and democracy".

"Strongly" condemning the violence, Mrs Ashton said that "only a concerted effort by all Egyptians and the international community might lead the country back on a path to inclusive democracy".

Aerial footage showed multiple fires on Cairo's streets on Wednesday

In other reaction

  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss a "very serious massacre"
  • French President Francois Hollande summoned the Egyptian ambassador to Paris for talks
  • Denmark suspended funding for two development projects run in collaboration with the Egyptian government and said it would urge the EU to take similar measures
  • The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain said they understood the Egyptian government's need to restore order
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron said the violence was "not going to solve anything" and there needed to be "compromise from all sides"

In a televised address, Egyptian Interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi defended the operation, saying the authorities had to restore security.

Expressing regret for the loss of life, he said the state of national emergency would be lifted as soon as possible.

Emergency law in Egypt

  • Curfew in Cairo and other provinces from 19:00 local time (17:00 GMT) to 06:00 local time daily
  • Arrest of suspects deemed dangerous to public order
  • Army to help police maintain security
  • Limited movement of people and traffic
  • Surveillance on messages and monitoring of media

The measure imposes a curfew in Cairo and several other provinces between 19:00 local time (17:00 GMT) and 06:00.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said the police had "dealt professionally" with the protesters, and accused the pro-Morsi protesters of firing birdshot at police.

Leaders detained

Following the violence, Vice-President Mohammed ElBaradei announced his resignation from the interim government, saying he could not "shoulder the responsibility for a single drop of blood".

Reports said the smaller camp in Nahda Square was cleared quickly but clashes raged for several hours around the main camp near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.

Mobs later carried out reprisal attacks on government buildings and police stations as well as churches belonging to the country's Coptic Christian minority.

Crisis timeline

  • 3 Jul: President Mohammed Morsi deposed by military after mass protests
  • 4 Jul: Pro-Morsi protesters gather at the Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda sites in Cairo
  • 27 Jul: More than 70 people killed in clashes with security forces at Rabaa al-Adawiya
  • 14 Aug: Security forces move in to clear both camps

Egyptian TV said that by evening the security forces had seized full control of the site, and were allowing protesters there to leave.

But several Muslim Brotherhood leaders were reportedly detained, including Essam El-Erian and Mohamed El-Beltagi.

Speaking before his reported arrest, Mr Beltagi said his daughter Asmaa, 17, had been killed in the clashes.

Three members of the media were killed: Sky News cameraman Mick Deane, Gulf News reporter Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz (who was not working at the time) and Ahmed Abdel Gawad, who wrote for Egyptian state-run daily Al-Akhbar.

Mr Morsi - Egypt's first freely elected president - is currently in custody at an undisclosed location, accused of murders during a prison breakout in 2011.

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