CAIRO – Dozens of supporters of Egypt’s ousted Islamist leader, Mohammed Morsi, were shot dead in the capital Saturday as violence erupted following a night of massive rallies for and against the toppled president.
Medics at the field hospital said a total of 75 people were killed, including bodies taken elsewhere. The Health Ministry said 20 people died.
At least 37 bodies were laid out at a makeshift mortuary in an Islamist-run field hospital in Cairo, with doctors saying all of them were killed by live rounds fired during the clashes.
The bloodshed came hours after the military-backed interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, issued an ultimatum that a long-running sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque by Morsi loyalists would be ended “in the framework of the law,” if necessary.
It also comes almost three weeks after more than 50 people, mostly demonstrators, died in a similar outbreak of violence outside a military installation near the same sit-in.
Dr. Yehia Mikkia said Saturday’s casualties — mostly gunshot and birdshot wounds to the upper part of the body — have overwhelmed the hospital operating from the sit-in. He said the number of death is likely to be higher because other casualties were transported to different hospitals.
The army ousted Morsi on July 3 after nationwide protests demanding his removal.
Tens of thousands of supporters from his Muslim Brotherhood movement have since been camped outside the mosque in the Nasr City district of Cairo, in a defiant bid to get him reinstated.
Doctors at the field hospital said at least 1,000 were also wounded in clashes with police on the road to Cairo’s international airport Saturday morning.
The Health Ministry said 177 people were wounded.
A Brotherhood leader, Murad Ali, said police had fired live rounds, but the official MENA news agency cited a security official it did not identify as denying the police used any live bullets.
Running battles broke out at dawn on the airport road, with police firing tear gas at stone-throwing protesters, MENA said. Buckshot was fired, but it was unclear from which side.
Thousands of supporters and opponents of the coup also took to the streets of Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, sparking fierce clashes that killed seven people and wounded 194.
The bloodshed came as the interim interior minister said the military-backed government would move swiftly to break up the Islamist protest camp in Nasr City.
“There will be decisions from the prosecutor soon, and this situation will be ended,” Mohammed Ibrahim told satellite television channel Al-Hayat.
Army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who orchestrated the coup, had called for a mass show of support Friday for a crackdown on “terrorism.”
Hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters obliged and gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and around the Itihadiya presidential palace.
The military’s supporters dwarfed those of the former president, and appeared to be the largest crowds yet on Egypt’s streets during the country’s 2½ years of turmoil. They filled the streets of some cities that had previously seen next to no street demonstrations.A spokesman for army-installed President Adly Mansour said the numbers “affirmed the rejection of terrorism,” MENA said. But the Islamist Anti-Coup Coalition said Friday’s turnout by its supporters proved that those who took part in the rallies “reject the bloody, military fascist coup that wants to set the wheel of history back.”
“We believe the next two days will be decisive in the history of Egypt,” the group said.
The violence came after the authorities charged Morsi with murder and formally remanded him in custody for 15 days. He had been held without charge since hours after his ouster.
Morsi stands accused of the “premeditated murder of some prisoners, officers and soldiers” when he broke out of prison during the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, MENA said.
The ousted Islamist was also suspected of conspiring to “storm prisons and destroy them . . . allowing prisoners to escape, including himself.” On June 23, a court said Hamas militants facilitated the escape of prisoners during the 18-day uprising that forced out Mubarak.
The charges also include murder and kidnapping in connection with the prison break northwest of Cairo, in which Hamas gunmen allegedly attacked the facility at the behest of Morsi and the Brotherhood, killing 14 guards.
The Brotherhood and Hamas separately denied the charges. The Brotherhood said local residents carried out the attack to free their relatives.
The judicial announcement was the first official comment on Morsi’s legal status since he was ousted, and his supporters, who gathered by the hundreds of thousands in Cairo and Alexandria on Friday, quickly dismissed the allegations as political.
“The charges are nothing more than an attempt by the coup leaders to discourage the public from supporting the president’s legitimacy,” said Alaa Abdul-Aziz said, who served as Morsi’s culture minister until he and other Islamist and Brotherhood Cabinet members were deposed on the day of the coup.
The notion that Egypt’s elected president was “working as a spy for Hamas” was a “silly accusation,” he said. “These are old tactics. They remind me of the ’50s and ’60s,” he added, referring to the military rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser, under which the Muslim Brotherhood was brutally repressed.
Gehad El-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman, also denounced the detention order, saying Mubarak’s regime was “signalling ‘we’re back in full force.’ “
Detention orders of the type issued by the court against Morsi are usually followed by moving a suspect to prison. The military has so far kept Morsi’s whereabouts secret to avoid attracting protests by his supporters.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with 84 million people, has been rocked by violence that has killed some 200 people since the coup.
The army has said there will be no reneging on a road map to fresh elections next year.
But the Brotherhood and allied Islamist groups have rejected the interim government and vowed to press their protests until Morsi is reinstated.
Western governments are watching the crisis in Egypt with growing unease, fearing the military may be angling for a prolonged power grab.
The United States has decided not to label the army’s overthrow of Morsi a “coup,” a move that would trigger an automatic freeze of some $1.5 billion in aid, a U.S. official said. Nevertheless, Washington on Wednesday suspended the delivery of four promised F-16 fighter jets.
Egypt’s military is also facing a low-level insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel. Militants killed a civilian and wounded five soldiers in attacks in the region Friday.