Egypt clashes: ‘We couldn’t breathe’ protestors say as they flee the bloodshed

03At least 40 supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi – and reportedly hundreds more – died in an assault by Egypt’s security forces backed by armored cars and bulldozers on two sit-in opposition camps in Cairo.

By Louisa Loveluck in Cairo

“We couldn’t breathe, there was gas everywhere. And then they opened fire. I lost my best friend in the chaos, but when I came back, his body was lying on the floor. There was blood everywhere,” Waleed Fouad, a businessman, told the Daily Telegraph.

Deep divisions have plagued Egypt in the wake of the military takeover. Local residents gathered behind military lines on one side street outside Rabaa el Adaweya, cheering “the army and the people are one hand”. As they chanted, a plume of black smoke bellowed out from the encampment behind.

The encampments had grown increasingly unpopular among local residents and the broader Egyptian public. Amnesty International have documented cases of torture within the sit-in, and Egyptian media outlets routinely portray the Muslim Brotherhood as ‘terrorists’.

As the chaos unfolded in the streets of east Cairo, distraught relatives gathered on nearby side streets. “I left overnight so I could finally get some sleep,” says Mai Arafa. “I left my fiancé. He says he won’t leave.” As she speaks, she tries repeatedly to call her fiancé, Samer. But phone signal sporadic, due to the high volume of people in the area, contributing to a near information blackout from inside the sit-in.

Leaning out of his apartment window, a colonel watched the scene unfold. “This is necessary, it is the only way. They are terrorists and they have brought chaos with them. They say they are not armed, but they have guns.” As he speaks, his son points silently to his father’s own gun, sitting on the table beside him. He says he is ready to go out and fight himself if the pro-Morsi demonstrators move closer to his home.

As police continued to clear the sit-in, clashes raged across the country between Morsi supporters and the security services. In what appeared to be retaliatory violence against minority communities who are viewed as supporters of the military coup, at least half a dozen churches were burned in Sohag, Minya, and other locations in Upper Egypt.

The Egyptian Central Bank instructed commercial banks to close branches in areas affected by the chaos, a sign of alarm that the violence could spiral out of control. The Ministry of Antiquities also ordered the site of the Giza Pyramids closed to visitors along with the Egyptian museum in the heart of the Egyptian capital. The closures were a precaution effective only for Wednesday, it said.

The turmoil was the latest chapter a bitter standoff between Morsi’s supporters led by the Muslim Brotherhood and the leadership that has assumed the helm of the Arab world’s most populous country. The military ousted Morsi after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to call for him to step down, accusing him of giving the Brotherhood undue influence and failing to implement vital reforms or bolster the ailing economy.

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