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At least 17 killed in Egypt police crackdown

Security forces backed by bulldozers moved in to dismantle the camp in Cairo set up by Morsi supporters.

Image: AP

SECURITY FORCES BACKED by bulldozers moved in today on two huge protest camps set up in Cairo by supporters of Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi, launching a long-threatened crackdown that left at least 17 dead and many injured.

The operation began shortly after dawn when security forces surrounded the sprawling Rabaa al-Adawiya camp in east Cairo and a similar one at Al-Nahda square, in the centre of the capital.

Witnesses and an AFP correspondent said police rained canisters of tear gas down onto tents before entering Rabaa al-Adawiya, sparking pandemonium among the thousands of protesters who set up the camp soon after Morsi was ousted by the army on 3 July.

Men in gas masks rushed to grab each canister and dunk them in containers of water, as the main stage near the mosque of the camp blared Islamic anthems and protesters chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest.)

Clashes quickly erupted between protesters and security forces on one side of the camp, as automatic fire could be heard. It was not immediately clear who was doing the shooting.

(Video: Associated Press/YouTube)

Dismantling the camp

Television footage showed injured people being carried to a makeshift medical centre as well as police dragging away protesters, who have defied numerous ultimatums to end their demonstrations.

Protest leaders wearing gas masks stood defiantly on a stage while crowds of people wearing face masks stood amid the swirling tear gas as bulldozers began dismantling the camp.

Egypt’s interior ministry mid-morning said security forces have “total control” over Al-Nahda Square, the smaller of the two camps.

“Police forces have managed to remove most of the tents in the square,” the ministry said.

A security official told AFP that dozens of Morsi supporters had been arrested with the help of residents of the area.

Television footage showed protesters who had been rounded up sitting in the ground handcuffed and surrounded by security forces.

Families, with their children, carrying plastic bags were seen being escorted out of the square by police.

Railway authorities announced that all trains had been grounded to prevent protesters from moving outside of Cairo and reassembling.

Denounce the ‘massacre’

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood urged Egyptians to take to the streets in their thousands to denounce the “massacre”.

“This is not an attempt to disperse, but a bloody attempt to crush all voices of opposition to the military coup,” Brotherhood spokesman Gehad al-Haddad said on Twitter.

Egyptian security forces throw tear gas towards supporters at the camp today (Image AP).

The Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp, where several Brotherhood leaders are staying, “is calling on Egyptians to take to the streets to stop the massacre,” Haddad said.

In a separate tweet, Haddad said at least 250 people were killed and over 5,000 injured in the crackdown. There was no immediate independent confirmation of the tolls.

An AFP correspondent counted 17 bodies at a makeshift morgue at Rabaa al-Adawiya, adding that many appeared to have died from gunshot wounds.

Egypt’s interior ministry said two members of the security forces were killed in the operation.

The crackdown came just hours after the United States urged the military-backed interim government to allow Morsi supporters to protest freely.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington regarded freedom to protest as a “key part” of the democratic process but would be concerned by reports of violence.

- © AFP 2013.

Related: Human rights group slams authorities over Egypt protest deaths>

More: Clashes in Cairo lead to dozens of deaths>

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