x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Egypt's military disputes 'massacre' death toll

Military casts doubt on the number of Morsi supporters killed, as Amnesty International accuses it of using 'grossly disproportionate force' against protesters. Bradley Hope reports from Cairo

A supporter of deposed Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi reads the Quran on the roof of a building at the Rabaa Adawiya square, Cairo.
A supporter of deposed Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi reads the Quran on the roof of a building at the Rabaa Adawiya square, Cairo.

CAIRO // Egypt's military intensified efforts to undermine the supporters of former president Mohammed Morsi yesterday, casting doubt on the number of people killed in a shoot-out on Monday.

Military spokesman Col Ahmed Ali accused Muslim Brotherhood leaders of engaging in "psychological warfare" and denied claims that soldiers opened fire first.

The health ministry put the death toll at 51 after the clashes outside an army barracks where protesters believed Mr Morsi was being held against his will since his removal from power on July 3.

"We don't know how many casualties there were because they took the victims to the mosque, where they were making some kind of propaganda" using images of the injured and dead Col Ali said. "I have a doubt that we killed the number they are announcing."

The military claims its troops only opened fire after a group of militants attacked their positions around the Republican Guard building with guns, rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Protesters said they were attacked by the army and police at dawn during the fajr prayer.

To back up the army's claims, Col Ali showed video footage of pro-Morsi protesters firing weapons and throwing material onto soldiers from roofs around the Republican Guard building.

The footage also included clips from Brotherhood leaders and supporters that Col Ali said was proof of "incitement".

He also said the army believed some of the protesters had killed each other in a bid to increase anger toward the military.

Brotherhood leaders and their supporters were making false claims as part of a "psychological warfare" against the army to sow division and instability, he said.

He said the army's release of video footage was part of their own "psychological operations".

"My job is to deny we are killers," Col Ali said. "We were only protecting Egyptian security."

But Amnesty International said its investigators found "use of grossly disproportionate force" by the army against the protesters.

"Even if some protesters used violence, the response was disproportionate and led to the loss of life and injury among peaceful protesters," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the deputy director of the group's Middle East and North Africa programme.

Adly Mansour, a former supreme constitutional court judge who was appointed as Egypt's interim president by the military, has promised an independent investigation into the killings.

There was little doubt yesterday that the incident, the deadliest since police fought with protesters during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak, was fuelling discontent.

The Brotherhood has described the incident as a "massacre" and called on its supporters to remain in the streets. But they remain committed to peaceful protest, according to a spokesman?. Large marches and demonstrations are planned today to protest the military violence and actions against Mr Morsi and other leaders.

Many of the group's top leaders have been detained by the police over the past week on charges of "incitement".

The deep polarisation between Mr Morsi's supporters and a huge swathe of Egypt that opposed him was already proving the biggest challenge for the new government.

Mr Mansour has called on the Brotherhood to join a national reconciliation initiative and participate in upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, but they have refused, arguing that by doing so they would legitimise the military's actions.

The challenges of reviving Egypt's economy were also thrown into stark relief yesterday after a former official warned that the nation held just two months worth of imported wheat.

Bassem Ouda, the former minister of supplies, told Reuters that the country had just 500,000 tonnes of wheat left in storage. Egypt imports about 10 million tonnes each year.

Mr Morsi had forecast in speeches over the past several months that domestic wheat production would be 9.5 million tonnes, 30 per cent higher than in the year before. Invoking a verse from the Quran, he pointed to what he described as a bountiful harvest as the result of good government policy.

But analysts have thrown cold water on those claims in recent months, predicting a much more modest crop.

On Thursday, the UN Food and Agriculture organisation said that Egypt's would face food security problems.

The interim government was bolstered this week with promises of $12 billion of grants, loans and petroleum products from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The money will go a long way in preventing Egypt from facing sudden problems, but the new government will still have to find a way to begin reforming its unsustainable fuel and energy subsidy programme that is seen as its most pressing financial problem.

bhope@thenational.ae

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