Egypt’s army-backed interim Prime Minister has defended the deadly operation by security forces to evict supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsy from protest camps in which at least 300 people were killed as the crackdown turned into a bloodbath.

In a televised statement on Wednesday, Hazem el-Beblawi said the decision to break up the protests “was not easy” and came only after the government had given mediation efforts a chance.

“We found that matters had reached a point that no self respecting state could accept,” he said, citing what he describes as “the spread of anarchy and attacks on hospitals and police stations”.

Bulldozers were said to have been used to uproot the camps and drive out the protesters who were seeking Mr. Morsy’s reinstatement after the 62-year-old Islamist was ousted by the military on July 3.

Conflicting reports emerged over the number of people killed on Wednesday as the death toll continued to rise.

The Egypt Independent reported that least 300 people were killed in Cairo yesterday after Egyptian security forces moved in to disperse thousands of supporters of Mr. Morsy who were protesting for weeks demanding his return in two major squares, Rabaa al-Adaweya and al-Nahda.

However, the Health Ministry said that at least 281 people were killed and over 1,400 injured in violent incidents nationwide on Wednesday. Forty-three members of Egypt’s police force were among those killed, the ministry said.

The Muslim Brotherhood claimed that more than 2,000 people had been killed in the violence.

The government on Wednesday imposed a month-long emergency after riot police backed by armoured vehicles, bulldozers and helicopters swept away the two encampments of pro-Morsy supporters.

Security forces shot dead scores of people in their assault on the camps, defying international pleas to show restraint after a six-week stand-off with Mr. Morsy’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Al Jazeera news channel reported.

Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei resigned on Wednesday, saying peaceful means could still have been found to end the confrontation, but other members of the government have rallied behind the decision to use force.

Mr. ElBaradei announced his resignation saying that, “(he) can no longer bear responsibility for decisions that (he does not) agree with, and whose repercussions he dreads. (He) cannot be responsible for a single drop of blood before God, (his) conscience, and (his) people, especially that (he) believes the dropping of that blood could have been avoided.”

Mr. ElBaradei’s resignation sparked mixed reaction among Egyptian youth and political elite alike. Tamarrod (Rebel) movement accused ElBaradie of “quitting at a historic moment”.

Meanwhile, Mr. Beblawi said the emergency would be for the shortest period possible. He said that the government was committed to an army-backed road map to restore democracy.

The measure, scheduled to last for a month, also imposes a curfew in Cairo and several other provinces between 7 pm (10:30 pm IST) and 6:00 am (9:30 am IST).

“There was a need for the state to intervene with an extraordinary measure which is the emergency law. God willing, we will continue. We will build our democratic, civilian state,” he said.

Two journalists were killed during the violence on Wednesday. Mick Deane, a cameraman for the UK-based Sky News channel, and Habiba Abd Elaziz, a reporter for the UAE-based Xpress newspaper, died from bullet wounds.

International condemnation of the violence was swift, with the US Secretary of State John Kerry calling it “deplorable”.

The United Nations, the European Union, Britain, France, Iran, Qatar and Turkey strongly denounced the use of force by the military-backed interim government.

The EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton called on security forces to “exercise utmost restraint”.

The interior ministry had issued a statement earlier saying security forces were taking “necessary measures” against the protesters.

In a press conference, the cabinet media adviser on Wednesday thanked the security forces for “exercising self-control and high-level professionalism in dispersing the sit-ins,” and held the Muslim Brotherhood responsible for “escalation and violence”.

Witnesses said that after firing tear gas into the Rabaa al-Adawiyeh sit-in, pandemonium struck among the thousands of protesters.

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