CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian security forces, backed by armored cars and bulldozers, moved on Wednesday to clear two sit-in camps of supporters of the country's ousted President Mohammed Morsi, showering protesters with tear gas as the sound of gunfire rang out at both sites, state television and security officials said.
At least two members of the security forces were confirmed to have died in the morning's crackdown in Cairo while a group representing the protesters said as many as 25 protesters were killed in one of the camps. A senior Health Ministry official, Ahmed el-Ansari, said four people were killed and 50 injured in all at the two sites.
The smaller of the two camps was cleared of protesters by late morning, with most of them taking refuge in the nearby Orman botanical gardens and inside the sprawling campus of Cairo University.
However, security forces remained on the fringes of the other camp in the eastern Nasr City district after it showered the encampment with tear gas. Television footage from there showed thousands of protesters congregating at the heart of the site, with many wearing gas masks or covering their faces to fend off the tear gas.
Wednesday's attacks on the two pro-Morsi camps are the latest chapter in the turmoil that has roiled Egypt since the 2011 ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak and are likely to deepen the nation's division between the camp of Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood on one side, and secularists, liberals, moderate Muslims and minority Christians on the other.
A security official said a total of 200 protesters were arrested from both sites on Wednesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The Anti-Coup Alliance, an umbrella of pro-Morsi supporters, said in a statement that 25 people were killed and dozens injured in the attack on the Nasr City camp, claiming that security forces used live ammunition. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said it only used tear gas and that its forces came under fire from the camp. Two policemen were killed and five were injured by gunfire, it said.
"The world cannot sit back and watch while innocent men, women and children are being indiscriminately slaughtered. The world must stand up to the military junta's crime before it is too late," said a statement by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which Morsi hails.
A ministry statement also warned that forces would deal firmly with protesters who were acting "irresponsibly," suggesting that it would respond in kind if its men are fired upon. It said it would guarantee safe passage to all who want to leave the Nasr City site but would arrest those wanted for questioning by prosecutors.
The security official said train services between the north and south of the country have been suspended in a bid to prevent supporters of the ousted Morsi from travelling to Cairo to reinforce fellow Islamists.
An Associated Press video journalist at the scene in Nasr City said he could hear the screams of women as a cloud of white smoke hung over the protest encampment. He said a bulldozer was removing mounds of sand bags and brick walls built earlier by the protesters as a defense line in their camp.
Army troops did not take part in the two operations, but provided security at the locations. Police and army helicopters hovered over both sites as plumes of smoke rose over the city skyline. The simultaneous actions by the Egyptian forces began shortly after 7 a.m. (0500 GMT).
Regional television networks were showing images of collapsed tents and burning tires at both sites, with ambulances on standby. They were also showing protesters being arrested and led away by black-clad policemen.
At one point, state television showed footage of some dozen protesters, mostly bearded, cuffed and sitting on a sidewalk under guard outside the Cairo University campus. The private ONTV network showed firearms and rounds of ammunition seized from protesters there.
At least 250 people have died in clashes in Egypt following Morsi's ouster in a military coup on July 3 that followed days of mass protests by millions of Egyptians calling for his removal.
Supporters of the Islamist president want him reinstated and are boycotting the military-sponsored political process which includes amending the Islamist-backed constitution adopted last year and holding parliamentary and presidential elections early next year.
Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, had just completed one year in office when he was toppled. He has been held at an undisclosed location since July 3, but was visited by the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and a team of African statesmen. Ashton reported that he was well and had access to television and newspapers.
Several bids by the United States, the EU and Gulf Arab states to reconcile the two sides in Egypt in an inclusive political process have failed, with the Brotherhood insisting that Morsi must first be freed along with several of the group's leaders who have been detained in connection with incitement of violence.
The trial of the Brotherhood's leader, Mohammed Badie, and his powerful deputy Khairat el-Shater on charges of conspiring to kill protesters is due to start later this month. Badie is on the run, but el-Shater is in detention. Four others are standing trial with them on the same charges.