MOSCOW, August 15 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian government urged its citizens Thursday to avoid traveling to Egypt, a popular tourist destination engulfed by riots over the sacking of an Islamist president that have already resulted in more than 500 deaths and the torching of churches.
The death toll stood at 525 as supporters of the ousted Mohamed Morsi clashed with security services, The Associated Press reported Thursday, citing the country’s Health Ministry.
The pro-Morsi movement Muslim Brotherhood said police had used live rounds against civilian protesters and put the death toll at close to 2,000. Police denied using lethal force.
The majority of casualties occurred after police cracked down on camps of Morsi supporters in the capital Cairo on Wednesday, dispersing them after a clash.
Each side accused the other of using snipers to shoot indiscriminately at people involved in the riots. The list of victims includes at least two foreign reporters from the UK and the UAE, while a Russian television crew was robbed at knifepoint by looters in Cairo.
The Muslim Brotherhood plans to stage a mass rally in Cairo on Thursday evening, Reuters reported, citing a statement by the group.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday that Russians should avoid traveling to Egypt, while the Federal Tourism Agency called on travel agencies to sell fewer holidays to Egypt, one of the most popular destinations among Russians.
But no plans were reported for the evacuation of Russians currently vacationing at local resorts, whose numbers were tentatively put by the Russian Tourism Industry Union at 40,000 to 50,000.
The Egyptian embassy in Moscow called the Russian warnings “unfounded,” pointing out that no Russian tourists have been harmed so far during riots.
The Russian Orthodox Church expressed concern Thursday over reports that at least seven Christian churches had been torched in Egypt by Islamists, and that local Coptic Christians had been forced to flee the country over accusations that Christian minorities in Egypt had backed the ouster of Morsi, known for his Islamist views.
Engineering divisions of the Egyptian military have been deployed to rebuild the churches, local media said Thursday.
Morsi narrowly won the presidential elections in May 2012 that followed a revolution that ousted his authoritarian predecessor Hosni Mubarak, but was removed from the presidency in July in a military coup d'état that came after months of street protests by Morsi’s opponents.
Morsi is currently under house arrest, which was extended until Sept. 15 on Thursday, local media reported.
The ouster polarized the country, with Morsi’s supporters replacing his opponents in the streets. The military declared a nationwide state of emergency in an attempt to stop the violence.
Several European countries, including Germany, France and Italy, have expressed concern over the situation in Egypt, as has US President Barack Obama on Thursday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no recent comments on the ongoing crisis, but warned soon after Morsi’s ouster against a possible civil war in the most populous Arab nation.