Shortly after dawn on Wednesday, Egyptian police cracked down on 6-week-long sit-ins by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo, sparking deadly clashes that have left dozens dead and hundreds injured by nighttime.
By mid-afternoon, the Egyptian presidency declared a month-long state of emergency in 14 governorates accompanied by a nightly curfew.
At least 281 people were killed and over 1,400 injured in violent incidents nationwide on Wednesday, the health ministry said.
43 policemen had been killed, said Mohamed Ibrahim, the minister of interior, in a news conference on Wednesday night.
The interior ministry decided to disperse the sit-ins because they"threatened national security, incited violence and [protesters at the sit-ins] tortured and killed people," Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim added that police forces "were surprised by protesters who started firing live ammunition" and added that "clear instructions" were given to security forces to limit use of weapons to teargas after protesters had been told to leave by loudspeakers.
After a 12-hour operation that started at 6am Wednesday, police said they had taken control of the locations of the sit-ins at Al-Nahda Square in Giza and Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in Nasr City, where tens of thousands of Morsi supporters have been calling for weeks for his reinstatement after the army deposed him on 3 July amid mass nationwide protests.
The interior ministry also announced that it had arrested 543 people allegedly involved in clashes and riots in Cairo and several governorates.
Many journalists, including Ahram Online correspondents, reported that both the police and Morsi protesters had used live ammunition against one another.
In the wake of the outbreak of violence in Cairo, clashes erupted all over the country as Morsi supporters took to the streets attacking churches and government buildings and police precincts.
Egypt’s presidency responded in mid-afternoon by declaring a state of emergency, to last for one month. Shortly after, the cabinet imposed an overnight curfew for the entire emergency period on 14 governorates. These include Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, Suez and six Upper Egyptian provinces.
Later in the evening, Egypt’s armed forces, which played an auxillary role in backing police actions throughout the day, issued a statement vowing to act with "utmost firmness" against anyone violating the curfew.
The state of emergency gives the police greater powers to arrest and detain citizens without a court order.
In the most prominent political reaction so far to the violent clashes, interim Vice President for Foreign Affairs Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been calling for a peaceful solution to the ongoing political crisis, submitted his resignation. His resignation, however, his is yet to be approved by the presidency.
Throughout the day, the government has defended the actions taken to disperse the sit-ins, saying it was necessary for the state to intervene.
Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi said in a televised statement on Wednesday evening that the sit-ins posed a threat to security. Beblawi added that "Egypt cannot move forward, especially economically, in the absence of security.” He then praised the police, saying they had exercised the utmost restraint.
Immediately after the morning attack on the two sit-ins, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a pro-Morsi group led by the Muslim Brotherhood, called on its supporters to take to the streets "to stop the massacre" and continue to call for their demands.
Shortly after the dispersal of the sit-in at Nahda Square in Giza, a pro-Morsi protest headed to the nearby Mostafa Mahmoud Square in the Mohandiseen district and set up a new sit-in. The protesters stood their ground against police teargas and they continued to occupy the square into the early hours of Thursday morning.
Al-Haram district in Giza, not far away from Al-Nahda Square, also witnessed similar attempts. Scuffles broke out at as police fired teargas to disperse the crowds. Gunfire was also reported at in the district.
During the day, Pro-Morsi protesters also blocked several vital roads in the city including the Ring Road, a key route that connects many of Cairo’s major districts.
In addition, there have been a number of attacks on police stations around the country. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim put the number of stations attacked at 21. These precincts include two stations in Giza, and another in Helwan, south of Cairo. Other stations were also attacked in Upper Egypt's Minya, Assiut and Fayoum.
The interior ministry had released a statement earlier on Wednesday saying that it had monitored "orders" by Brotherhood leaders to the group's members to "attack police stations.”
Angry mobs also attacked dozens of Christian properties including churches, schools, houses and shops, in a number of locations around Egypt including Alexandria, Suez, and several cities in Upper Egypt.
The Coptic Orthodox Church condemned the attacks, calling on the Egyptian armed forces to help the police in maintaining security.
Many governorates nationwide witnessed bloody clashes on Wednesday, including Alexandria, Beheira, Beni Suef, Ismailia, Suez, Fayoum, Assuit, Minya, and Aswan.
On Wednesday morning, the railway authority said it had stopped all train services to and from Cairo "for security reasons and to prevent people from mobilising.”
In a televised statement early on Wednesday, the cabinet said it would react sternly to any acts of sabotage and attacks on state institutions. The government vowed to safeguard the right to political expression as long as it remains peaceful and stays within the law.
Earlier, the cabinet's media advisor Sherif Shawki told Al-Ahram Arabic news website that police took action against the sit-ins after an "ultimatum" allegedly given by Al-Azhar to protesters, which had proposed a reconciliation initiative last week, ended.
However, Al-Azhar, the country's official Islamic authority, released a statement following the dispersal saying that it had not been aware of plans to disperse the sit-ins, adding it "should not be dragged into political conflicts.”
In an audio message aired on state TV, Al-Azhar's grand imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb called for "restraint" and "prioritisation of the national interest." El-Tayyeb also condemned violence and bloodshed, stressing that Al-Azhar believes in finding a "political solution" to the crisis.
Meanwhile, the vice-chairman of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party Essam El-Erian condemned the attacks, saying pro-Morsi demonstrators will remain defiant.
"Hundreds of martyrs will fall and our determination will never be broken... So we shall live freely in a free country," he said.
Several political forces also condemned the bloodshed.
The Salafist Nour Party said the sit-ins' dispersal will further "complicate" the political situation.
The one-time ally of the Brotherhood also called on protesters to exercise restraint.
The April 6 Youth Movement blamed “the army, interior ministry and the Muslim Brotherhood” for the bloodshed.
The youth movement, which backed Morsi for president before breaking with him later over his "betrayal of the goals of January 25 revolution," charged on its Facebook page that the interior ministry does not mind if people die so long as it “consolidates its control,” and that the Brotherhood also do not care about lives but only about “reclaiming power.”
The interior ministry has suggested a number of times over the past two weeks that a crackdown on the sit-ins was imminent.
ElBaradei had said in an interview with pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on 6 August that that the state is working to end the situation "peacefully" and will seek “controlled” violence only as a last resort.