CAIRO — Nearly 100 people were killed in clashes across the country that erupted Wednesday when Egyptian security forces cleared out thousands of people at sit-ins demanding the return of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.
The Egyptian Health Ministry says 95 people died and hundreds were injured in the clashes. Egypt’s interim president has declared a monthlong state of emergency.
In Cairo, smoke spread across the sky from fires smoldering in the streets where two sit-ins were largely abandoned, heaped with charred tent poles and tarps.
At the Rabaa Al-Awadiya camp, a protester said snipers were everywhere.
“People are dying — women, children,” said Hesham Al Ashry, a pro-Morsi protester who follows hard-line Islamic ideology, speaking frantically from inside the sit-in.
Reports differed over the number of people killed and injured when security forces moved into the two sit-ins in the capital. Trains stopped operating and banks were closed as police chased protesters accused of instigating violence.
Most shops in Cairo shut their doors and the streets were almost entirely vacant of vehicles, which usually clog the capital.
“All the people are afraid,” said taxi driver Korolos Gad, whipping his car through the empty streets and pointing out the military tanks that deployed in the city. “After a while, things will be fine.”
The military blocked roads leading to the smaller Nahda sit-in and cordoned off the bridge that leads to Tahrir Square. Downtown, near another entrance to the square, tanks lined a small side street in front of the Egyptian Museum.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said on Twitter that at least 250 people were killed, a number well above other estimates. In previous clashes the Brotherhood has put the death toll higher than official figures.
Britain’s Sky News confirmed that one of its cameramen was killed in the clashes.
Protesters, many of whom were members of Morsi’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, told reporters that government forces used live fire against them. The Interior Ministry said only tear gas was used.
Police and army helicopters hovered over both sites. Army troops did not take part in the clearing out of the two sit-ins but provided security at both spots.
Bearded men could be seen handcuffed and sitting along sidewalks not far from the larger protest camp outside the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo’s Nasr City. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said live fire came from the camp when security moved in to clear it out.
At least 200 people have been arrested at the two camps, the Ministry has said. The smaller of the two sit-ins, at Nahda Square, had been cleared and sealed off by security forces, according to witness reports.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo closed its consular services starting at 1 p.m. local time as retaliatory attacks erupted across the country. Morsi, the nation’s first freely elected leader, was ousted by the military July 3 after he forced through changes to the constitution that appeared to curtail freedoms, ignored the rulings of the Supreme Court and encouraged violence against his opponents.
On Wednesday there was protests and clashes outside Cairo as well between demonstrators and security forces, according to witnesses and local news reports.
Brotherhood loyalists torched a church in the Upper Egyptian city of Sohag and set fire to police vehicles in Assuit. In Suez, they blocked a road by setting car tires on fire, the state news agency said. Police stations across the country were attacked, and in Fayoum, Morsi supporters set fire to a Christian youth center, local press reports said.
“The people of Egypt will take to every square in Egypt — Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, and in Upper Egypt,” said Mohammed Attiya, a supporter of Morsi as he went to a protest in the Nile Delta. “They will be there until they end the coup.”
Supporters of Morsi have maintained the two main Cairo sit-ins for over a month despite threats by authorities that they will be dispersed by security forces. Protesters said they would not leave and demanded Morsi’s reinstatement.
“People elected Morsi and voted for the constitution and the parliament,” said Abou Zeid Badr, 30, at the Nahda sit-in Tuesday night. “And these votes were crushed by the military.”