A state of emergency has been declared across the country for one month starting from Wednesday

The Egyptian government’s much-feared crackdown on encampments of deposed President Mohamed Morsy’s supporters in Cairo materialised in the early hours of Wednesday, marking a new stage in the confrontations between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Backed by armoured vehicles, bulldozers and ambulances, Egyptian police swooped down at around 7 a.m. local time on the two tented encampments of pro-Morsy supporters — one opposite the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque at Nasr city and the other at the Nahda traffic junction. Eyewitnesses reported thick smoke rising from the areas of the assemblage amid sounds of gunfire. Television pictures showed an army bulldozer taking down the tents, sandbags and a makeshift brick wall that the protesters had erected in the Nasr city encampment for their illusionary defence. Protesters set fire to tires even as the security forces torched the tents.

The storming of the two sit-ins has caused significant casualties, but claims around the death toll have fluctuated wildly. The Muslim Brotherhood — Mr. Morsy’s parent organisation —claimed that 250 people had been killed, describing the encounter with the police as a “massacre”. In the absence of an official count, others estimated that 40 people had died. “This is not an attempt to disperse, but a bloody attempt to crush all voices of opposition to the military coup,” said Brotherhood spokesman Gehad al-Haddad on Twitter.

The intrusion by the security forces triggered an impassioned call by the Brotherhood for countrywide protests — its appeal finding deep resonance in several cities in Upper Egypt — the Brotherhood’s stronghold.

The website of the state-run Al Ahram is reporting a rash of protests that seemed to have gathered heavy momentum by afternoon. Mr. Morsy’s supporters have apparently set afire a Christian Youth Center in the Upper Egypt city of Fayoum. Churches have been attacked in other cities including Suez, adding a sharp and dangerous communal dimension to the protests. Police stations have also become the target of attacks across Egypt. Besides, protests are building up in Alexandria, while in Aswan, famous for its dam along the Nile, the university hospital confirmed that three people had died following clashes between pro-Morsy protesters and the security forces.

Within a few hours of the crackdown, the Interior Ministry announced that the smaller sit in at Nahda had been dismantled.

Members of the security forces in black uniforms rounded up activists as they tried to flee barrages of teargas. But details were sketchy about the situation in Nasr city. Breaking up the assemblage sit-in opposite the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque was always going to be tricky, as a full-fledged infrastructure of kitchens, bathrooms and equipment for internet access had been established there to support tens of thousands of activists.

As rumours swirled about security forces firing live rounds, the Interior Ministry asserted that it had only used teargas during the raids. It also stated that only “those who are wanted by the prosecution”, would be arrested, as other protesters would be given a safe exit. Yet, private Egyptian TV channels are reporting that several Brotherhood leaders have been detained.

The attack on the sit-ins is set to deepen the already inflamed polarisation between supporters of the Brotherhood and secularists backing the military. Al Jazeera is quoting Khaled Daoud, a spokesman for the pro-military National Salvation Front justifying Wednesday morning’s crackdown. But conversely, the ultra- conservative Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya movement exhorted Mr. Morsy’s supporters to hit the streets to condemn what it termed were “coup crimes.”

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