New York — The UN Security Council called on the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday to exercise “maximum restraint” and end the violence spreading across the country. Council members also called for national reconciliation and expressed regret at the loss of life.
Argentine Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval, the council president, expressed the views of the council members after an emergency meeting. It was not a formal statement and represented the lowest-level response by the UN’s most powerful body — a reflection of the serious differences among the 15 council members on how to respond to the escalating crisis in Egypt.
Perceval spoke to reporters after the council was briefed by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson on the turmoil in Egypt, sparked by the government’s deadly crackdown on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
“Members first of all expressed their sympathy to the victims and regretted the loss of life. The view of council members is that it’s important to end violence in Egypt, that the parties exercise maximum restraint. And there was a common desire on the need to stop violence and to advance national reconciliation,” Perceval said.
Russia and China traditionally oppose Security Council involvement in the domestic affairs of a country, partly because of sensitivity over internal disputes in their own countries, including in Chechnya and Tibet.
Diplomats said several council members pressed for adoption of a press statement that condemned the violence but China was opposed. In the end even softer language deploring the violence was dropped, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the consultations were private.
Britain, France and Australia had jointly requested the council meeting. Britain’s deputy ambassador Philip Parham said the council needed “to be informed about a situation that is obviously of serious concern.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier accused the West of ignoring the violence and called on the Security Council to meet urgently to discuss the situation.
At least 638 people were confirmed killed and nearly 4 000 wounded in the violence sparked when riot police backed by armoured vehicles, snipers and bulldozers smashed two sit-ins in Cairo where Morsi’s supporters had been camped out for six weeks to demand his reinstatement. It was the deadliest day by far since the 2011 popular uprising that overthrew autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak and plunged the country into more than two years of instability.
Eliasson told reporters as he left the meeting that his briefing “built” on the statement that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made on Wednesday.
The UN chief condemned “in the strongest terms” the violence used by Egyptian security forces to clear demonstrators supporting Morsi and expressed regret that the authorities chose to use force instead of listening to his earlier plea to prevent further loss of life. Ban also urged all Egyptians to concentrate on promoting reconciliation.
Diplomats said Eliasson called the situation in Egypt “extremely volatile”.
Perceval reiterated Argentina’s condemnation of “the coup d’etat against Morsi and Wednesday’s “brutal repression against popular demonstrations that filled the streets of the main cities of Egypt.” Argentina urged authorities to “totally and immediately cease the spiral of violence loosed in recent days against unarmed citizens.”
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has asked supporters of Morsi, the deposed president, to take part in a nationwide Day of Rage in protest against the recent violent clearing of protest sites by security forces.
The announcement came a day after hundreds of people were killed in the police action that ended two sit-ins in Cairo that began after the army toppled Morsi on 3 July.
“Anti-coup rallies tomorrow will depart from all mosques of Cairo and head towards Ramsis square after Jumaa prayer in ‘Friday of Anger’,” Gehad el-Haddad, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, said on Twitter.
In a separate statement yesterday, the Muslim Brotherhood said: “Despite the pain and sorrow over the loss of our martyrs, the latest coup makers’ crime has increased our determination to end them.”
Egyptian state TV is reporting that the military has deployed troops to guard what it describes as vital installations. Egypt’s army commanders are warning troops will fire at anyone who attacks government buildings.
The Health Ministry said that at least 578 people and 46 police officers were killed in the clearing and subsequent clashes nationwide on Wednesday, and more than 3 500 injured.
Muslim Brotherhood members have said the true death toll was far higher, with a spokesperson saying 2 600 people had been killed in the “massacre”.
The group accuses the military of staging a coup when it toppled Morsi. Liberal and youth activists who backed the military see the move as a positive response to public demands.
Egypt spent its first day under emergency rule and curfew on Thursday, with Cairo remaining tense and bracing for further unrest.
Although the night-time curfew ended at 6am local time on Thursday morning, few dared to venture out.
Police were out and busy removing the debris from the camps at Rabaa Square and Nahda Squares, where thousands of pro-Morsi supporters were driven out and hundreds killed in Wednesday’s crackdown.
Morsi supporters remain defiant while rallies supporting the Brotherhood continued on Thursday. The Interior Ministry said the headquarters of the Giza governorate was stormed and set on fire by Morsi supporters. — Al Jazeera/AP
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