CAIRO — Riot police backed by armored vehicles, bulldozers and helicopters Wednesday swept away two 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 crackdown on the protest sites.
Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader in the interim government, resigned in protest over the assaults as the military-backed leadership imposed a monthlong state of emergency and nighttime curfew.
Clashes broke out elsewhere in the capital and other provinces, injuring more than 1,400 people nationwide, as Islamist anger spread over the dispersal of the 6-week-old sit-ins of Morsi supporters that divided the country. Police stations, government buildings and Coptic Christian churches were attacked or set ablaze.
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.
The assault to take control of the two sit-in sites came after days of warnings by the interim administration that replaced Morsi after he was ousted in a July 3 coup. The camps 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 smaller camp was cleared relatively quickly, but it took hours for police to take control of the main sit-in site, which is near the Rabbah al-Adawiya Mosque that has served as the epicenter of the pro-Morsi campaign.
Several senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who were wanted by police were detained after police stormed the camp near the mosque, according to security officials and state television. Among those seized were Brotherhood leaders Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian, and hard-line cleric Safwat Hegazy — all wanted by prosecutors to answer allegations of inciting violence and conspiring to kill anti-Morsi protesters.
Police dismantled the main stage near the mosque in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City, the official MENA news agency said. An AP reporter saw hundreds of protesters leaving the sit-in site carrying their personal belongings.
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.
In imposing the state of emergency, the government ordered the armed forces to support the police in restoring law and order and protect state facilities. The nighttime curfew affects Cairo and 10 provinces.
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 in a bitter standoff between Morsi’s supporters and the interim leadership that took over the Arab world’s most populous country. The military ousted Morsi after millions of Egyptians massed in the streets at the end of June 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.