CAIRO -- Egypt’s military-backed government blamed supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi for instigating clashes early Saturday that led to the deaths of at least 60 people and tipped the country further into chaos.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said security forces fired tear gas to stop Morsi’s Islamist supporters from blocking a key bridge in Cairo. The police responded, he said, after Morsi’s followers marched toward the bridge from the Rabaa al Adawiya mosque, where the former president’s Muslim Brotherhood movement has been camped for a month.
Ibrahim did not explicitly say if police fired other weapons. He called on Islamists to “return to their senses.” He added, however, that “the police have not and will not aim any firearm at the chest of any protester.”
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- Rabaa El Adawia Mosque, El-Nasr Road, Nasr City, Cairo Governorate, Egypt
The general prosecutor’s office said an early investigation found that Morsi supporters fired first on police. The state news agency reported that the pro-Morsi “crowd attacked security forces with shotguns, pistols and Molotov cocktails.”
Those accounts differ from the version given by Brotherhood members, wounded protesters and doctors in the field hospital near the mosque. They say 120 people were killed, many of them from live ammunition, when police and unknown gunmen attacked peaceful protesters in clashes that intensified through the night.
“The early injuries we saw were mostly from tear gas. Then, a little later, we treated birdshot wounds,” said Dr. Esam Arafa, who volunteered at the field hospital. “But around 2 a.m. there was a terrifying escalation. We saw injuries from live bullets. Protesters were shot in the chest, head and eyes. I’ve seen no less than 1,000 wounded patients.”
The deaths mark a perilous turning point in the struggle between Islamists and the new government over the nation’s political future. Morsi was overthrown in a coup on July 3 and his supporters are demanding his reinstatement.“We tried to vote for a democracy. We voted for a parliament and a president but our votes went down the tubes by the army’s bloody coup,” said Asraf Medhat, standing near the barricades protecting the road leading to Rabaa al Adawiya. “They say we’re terrorists. We’re not terrorists. How can we retaliate? We don’t have the weapons the army has.”
The Conservative Party, which supports the military, blamed the Brotherhood for “cheap and despicable methods” and for “adopting the policy of stubbornness and arrogance and not considering the sanctity of the blood of the Brotherhood youth or any Egyptians.”