John Baird calls for calm as tensions in Egypt escalate
Published Wednesday, August 14, 2013 11:20AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 14, 2013 9:09PM EDT
OTTAWA -- As anger spreads throughout Egypt over a military crackdown on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, Canada is calling for calm while Egyptian Canadians watch in horror from a distance.
Canada's Foreign Affairs Department issued a warning Wednesday against all non-essential travel to Egypt, except for Red Sea coastal resorts.
But even there, the department advised Canadians to be very cautious as violence linked to the crackdown was seen in parts of the country outside Cairo.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also issued a statement, expressing deep concern over the violence and calling on Egypt to implement much-needed changes to ease tensions.
Canada supports "a transparent democratic system that respects the voices of its citizens, and that encourages and respects civil society and all other segments of the population," the statement said.
Such a system would restore calm and give all Egyptians a stake in the country's future stability and prosperity, it continues.
"We urge both parties to avoid violence, and engage in a meaningful political dialogue for the good of all Egyptians."
All day Wednesday, pictures and video images of the violence could be seen on the Facebook site Egyptian Canadians For Democracy. One video posted on the page showed footage of body bags lined up on a sidewalk. Another post read "God have mercy on Egypt."
Peter Nasr, 34, an Egyptian Canadian and Coptic Christian living in Ottawa, said Wednesday he feels powerless to help family members who are trapped in the troubled country.
"Like everybody else, I'm stuck idly by and watching," Nasr said. "I'm not sure who could do anything."
The Egyptian government declared a state of emergency shortly after security forces used bulldozers and armoured vehicles to clear two sit-in camps full of Morsi supporters.
The country's interim administration, which replaced Morsi after he was ousted on July 3, had been warning for days that the assault was coming. The two makeshift camps had been set up in late June at major intersections on opposite sides of the Egyptian capital.
Protesters -- many of them supporters of the pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood -- have demanded his reinstatement.
The violence has taken a heavy toll. By late Wednesday, Egypt's health ministry said 235 civilians were killed and more than 2,000 had been injured. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said 43 policemen died in the assault.
Ibrahim said Morsi supporters attacked 21 police stations and seven Coptic Christian churches across the nation, and assaulted the Finance Ministry in Cairo, occupying its ground floor.
Among the casualties was a cameraman who was working for Britain's Sky News.
"Our thoughts go out to the families and friends of those killed by today's violence, and we wish those injured a speedy recovery," Baird said.
"All Egyptians should show restraint and resolve in the coming days."
Nasr said many Egyptian citizens who have the financial means to leave the country are unable to access their money.
Nasr said his mother, who spends winters in Egypt, still has her life savings in an Egyptian bank. "We've been trying to figure out ways to wire it to, like, Saudi Arabia and we're still looking into it."
The Harper government and others around the world should insist that Egypt tell its military to cease the crackdown, NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar told a news conference in Ottawa.
"Canada must work with international partners and urge the interim government to direct the army to show restraint and comply with international human rights obligations," Dewar said.
"We ask all parties to sit down through dialogue, reach a peaceful solution to this crisis that includes a road map to democratic elections."