At least 20 people were killed and nearly 200 injured during fierce clashes in the Abbaseya neighborhood of Cairo early Wednesday, in a spasm of violence that threw the upcoming presidential election into disarray as several candidates announced the suspension of their campaigns.
Groups of armed individuals believed to be plain-clothed members of the military attacked anti-military protesters who have been staging a peaceful sit-in since Friday evening near the Defense Ministry in Cairo. A doctor interviewed on a state radio station said most of the deaths were caused by gunshot wounds to the chest or beatings.
The Egyptian army and security forces initially did little to stop the attacks. The violence only stopped six hours later - shortly after noon - when Egyptian army troops in armored vehicles, and heavily armed riot police arrived at the scene.
“The army's intervention has come hours too late," said Amnesty International’s Philip Luther. "There appears to be no will within Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to prevent these tragic events."
Further demonstrations are expected in Cairo this evening in support of the protesters and against military rule.
Former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei blamed the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Egyptian government for the "massacre." "SCAF & Government unable to protect civilians or in cahoots with thugs. Egypt going down the drain," ElBaradei said in a Tweet.
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France 24 News reports:
Who was Behind the Attacks at Egypt's Defense Ministry?
At dawn on Wednesday morning, protesters opposed to the military regime were attacked by unidentified armed men outside of Egypt’s Ministry of Defense in Cairo. At least 20 people were killed. Our Observer, who was on the scene, raised questions about the identity of the assailants, who he says were very well-armed.
The incident comes just a few weeks ahead of Egypt's first presidential election since Hosni Mubarak’s fall. Three candidates – Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Foutouh, and the left-wing lawyer Khaled Ali – have decided to halt their campaigning due to the violence.
“They attacked protesters with tear gas”
Mohamed Salah (@MhmdSalah1 on Twitter), a 25-year-old Egyptian blogger, was outside the ministry of defence during the attacks.
I had been there since 7 p.m. Tuesday night. Approximately 2,000 peaceful protesters were gathered in front of the ministry. They were all yelling “down with the military regime,” and demanding an immediate transition to a civilian government. I noted there were people from many different sides: there were liberals, Salafists, youths from the April 6 movement (LINK)… [According to other witnesses, the majority of protesters were supporters of Salafist politician Abou Ismail, who was disqualified from the presidential race by Egypt’s electoral committee]. Four armoured vehicles were stationed nearby. Interestingly, they did not budge during the attack.
“I saw five men fall to the ground, struck by bullets. One was a friend of mine”
At 1 a.m., about 100 “baltagiyas” [name given to the government’s henchmen under Hosni Mubarak’s reign] attacked the protesters with tear gas and with live bullets [on Twitter, there is much discussion among Egyptians about how civilians got their hands on tear gas, as it is usually wielded only by security forces]. Some had been lurking around the protesters for a while; others joined in for the attack. They were all dressed in civilian clothing, so they were not “officially” soldiers, but they were incredibly well armed [other witnesses also spoke of metal bars and clubs.] Meanwhile, the protesters that I saw were unarmed. All they did was throw rocks. [According to Egypt’s security forces, both sides threw Molotov cocktails.]
During the attack, I saw five men fall to the ground just a few feet away from me. They had been struck by bullets. One was a friend of mine. His name was Talaat, he was 20 years old and studied at Ain Shams University. The wounded were immediately taken to field hospitals set up nearby.
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