CAIRO – Riot police swept in with armored vehicles, bulldozers and helicopters Wednesday to clear two sprawling encampments of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, sparking running street battles elsewhere in Cairo and other Egyptian cities.
At least 149 people were killed nationwide, many of them in the assaults on the protest vigils.
The military-backed interim government declared a monthlong state of emergency, ordering the armed forces to support the police in efforts to restore law and order and protect state facilities. A nighttime curfew for Cairo and 10 provinces also was put into effect.
Clashes also broke out elsewhere in the capital and other provinces, injuring more than 1,400 people nationwide, as Islamist anger spread over the crackdown on the 6-week-old sit-ins of Morsi supporters that divided the counrty. Police stations, government buildings and Coptic Christian churches were attacked or set ablaze.
Smoke clogged the sky above Cairo and fires smoldered on the streets, which were lined with charred poles and tarps after several tents were burned.
The smaller camp was cleared relatively quickly, but it took hours for police to take control of the main sit-in site, which is near a mosque that has served as the epicenter of the pro-Morsi campaign.
The assault came after days of warnings by the interim administration that replaced Morsi after he was ousted in a July 3 coup. The two sit-in camps at two major intersections on opposite sides of the Egyptian capital began in late June to show support for Morsi. Protesters – many from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – have demanded his reinstatement.
The violence drew condemnation from other predominantly Muslim countries, but also from the U.N. and the United States, which said the crackdown will only make it more difficult for Egypt to move forward.
Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader in the interim government, resigned in protest over the crackdown.
He wrote that he is not prepared to be held responsible for a “single drop of blood,” and that only more violence will result, according to a copy of his letter to interim President Adly Mansour that was emailed to the Associated Press.
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 landmark Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum also were closed to visitors for the day as a precaution, according to the Ministry of Antiquities.
The turmoil was the latest chapter a bitter standoff between Morsi’s supporters and the interim leadership took over the Arab world’s most populous country.
The military ousted Morsi after millions of Egyptians massed in 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.
The coup provoked similar protests by Morsi’s backers after he and other Brotherhood leaders were detained as divisions have deepened, dealing a major blow to hopes of a return to stability after the 2011 revolution that toppled autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.
The deposed president has been held at an undisclosed location. Other Brotherhood leaders have been charged with inciting violence or conspiring in the killing of protesters.
“The world cannot sit back and watch while innocent men, women and children are being indiscriminately slaughtered. The world must stand up to the military junta’s crime before it is too late,” said a statement by the Brotherhood’s media office in London emailed to the AP.
The smaller of the two camps was cleared of protesters by late morning, with most of them taking refuge in the nearby Orman botanical gardens on the campus of Cairo University and the zoo.
An AP reporter at the scene said security forces were chasing protesters in the zoo. At one time, a dozen protesters, mostly men with beards wearing traditional Islamist garb, were seen handcuffed and sitting on a sidewalk under guard outside the university campus.
Associated Press reporters Tony G. Gabriel in Cairo and Mamdouh Thabet in Assiut contributed to this report.