At least five people were killed in sporadic violence in Egypt on Thursday after Islamists called protests to mark the first anniversary of a police crackdown that cost the lives of hundreds of demonstrators.
On August 14, 2013, after then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had removed Egypt’s first freely elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, police set upon thousands of Morsi supporters at protest camps in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares, leaving hundreds of people dead.
The assault was “one of the largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history”, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report released ahead of Thursday’s anniversary.
In Rabaa al-Adawiya at least 817 people were killed, HRW said, calling for investigations into likely “crimes against humanity”.
Official estimates say more than 700 people were killed at the two squares on that day.
On Thursday, attempts by Morsi supporters to demonstrate were swiftly suppressed, reflecting their dwindling ability to stage protests amid violent repression that has left more than 1,400 people dead since Morsi’s overthrow in July 2013.
The pro-Morsi Anti-Coup Alliance had called for nationwide rallies under the slogan “We Demand Retribution”.
Four people were killed by gunshots across Cairo when Morsi supporters clashed with riot police and civilian opponents, a security official said.
Earlier, a policeman was gunned down in a southern Cairo suburb by unknown assailants. The interior ministry blamed Morsi supporters for his death.
Police fired tear gas during clashes with pro-Morsi demonstrators in three neighbourhoods of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and in the town of Kerdasa, southwest of Cairo.
Similar trouble was reported in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya.
At least 14 people were wounded and around 70 arrested nationwide, security officials and state news agency MENA said.
Security forces were deployed around Cairo’s main squares including Rabaa to thwart any attempts by pro-Morsi groups to hold rallies.
– ‘No Regrets’ –
In a conference call on Tuesday, HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said the Rabaa crackdown was a “widespread systematic attack on civilian population”.
He called for an investigation into the roles played in the assault by Sisi, Interior Minister Mohamed Irbrahim and Medhat Menshawy, who led the crackdown.
Hazem al-Beblawi, who was prime minister at that time, brushed off the HRW criticism.
“It was a sad decision yet necessary… I do not have the slightest doubt that what happened was right,” Beblawi told AFP.
“No disproportionate force was used… it only took so long because of the vicious resistance (of the protesters),” he added.
The crackdown was launched after thousands of pro-Morsi supporters refused to end their sit-ins despite repeated warnings by the authorities.
Qatar-based cleric Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi, who was born in Egypt and is seen as a spiritual guide by supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, called for the prosecution of the “leaders of the military coup” for the “premeditated massacre” of the protesters.
Qaradawi is himself wanted in Egypt and faces trial in absentia as part of the crackdown on Morsi’s supporters.
Gas-rich Qatar has also given refuge to a number of Brotherhood leaders who fled Egypt after Morsi’s overthrow and has faced persistent criticism from the new authorities in Cairo.
Sisi deposed Morsi after millions of people took to the streets demanding the Islamist’s resignation just one year into his rule.
They accused him of monopolising power and ruining an already dilapidated economy.
Sisi replaced Morsi as president after securing a landslide victory in May this year in an election in which he faced a single challenger and the main opposition groups called a boycott.