CAIRO: The bloodshed stopped on Thursday but the death toll doubled. Egypt’s health ministry stated that 578 people were killed and thousands were wounded in the worst day of civil violence in the modern history of the country. With the staggering death toll, US President Barack Obama cancelled plans for upcoming military exercises with the Egyptian army, which Washington funds with $1.3 billion in annual aid.
France, Britain and Australia jointly requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the deadly violence in Egypt, diplomats said Thursday. The meeting — which would be closed-door consultations — could take place later in the day, they said. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan also called for the Security Council to convene quickly and act after what he described as a massacre in Egypt.
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood stormed and torched a government building in Cairo on Thursday and protests continued, while families tried to identify hundreds of mutilated bodies piled in a Cairo mosque. A crackdown by security forces began on Wednesday targeting and killing protesting supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Mursi.
State television quoted the interior ministry as saying the security forces would again use live ammunition to counter any attacks against themselves or public buildings.
The crackdown prompted an international outcry and words of denunciation rained down on Cairo’s military-backed rulers, including US President Barack Obama’s condemnation. “We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest,” he said in an address from his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Obama’s Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel later warned Egypt’s army chief that “the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our long-standing defence cooperation at risk”.
According to Western diplomats, senior US and European officials had been in contact with Egypt’s rulers until the final hour, pleading with them not to order a military crackdown on the protest camps.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said that anger within the 85-year-old movement, which has millions of supporters across Egypt, was “beyond control”. “It’s not about Mursi any more. Are we going to accept a new military tyranny in Egypt or not?” he said. The Brotherhood has called on followers to march in Cairo later on Thursday, while funeral processions for those who died provide further potential flashpoints over the coming days.
Shocking scenes, including television footage of unarmed protesters dropping to the ground as security forces open ed fire, have been seen around the world. But many Egyptians stridently support the crackdown and bitterly resent international criticism of the army, underlining how deeply divided society has become.
UN rights chief
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on all sides to “step back from the brink of disaster”. The death toll pointed to “an excessive, even extreme use of force against demonstrators”. Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande summoned the Egyptian ambassador to demand an immediate halt to the crackdown. “The head of state asserted that everything must be done to avoid civil war,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.