Nightly News   |  August 14, 2013

Political unrest grapples Egypt, Kerry calls it ‘deplorable’

Chaos erupted in Egypt after security forces moved into opposition protest camps. The camps were set up by the supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.  Now, hundreds are dead, thousands more are injured and Secretary of State John Kerry has stern words about the violence. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> good evening, i'm lester holt sitting in for brian. the horrific images out of egypt capture a country rapidly spiraling out of control as the government made good on promises to disperse supporters of the president ousted by the military last month. tonight hundreds are dead and thousands injured following the crackdown on two protest encampments. witnesses say security forces opened fire on protesters, but there were casualtys on both sides. let's get to richard engel who is in a safe location after being on the streets all day. richard , good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, lester. washington had been pressuring egypt not to do this, but egypt did it anyway, and now roughly 300 people are dead, including some 40 members of the egyptian security forces . a curfew is in place, as is a state of emergency for the next month. egypt is unraveling. its hope of democracy obscured behind tear gas and bullets. at first light, egyptian security forces , which ousted the elected president mohamed morsi six weeks ago, moved in to finish the job and break up two camps of protesters who demand that the former president be reinstated. bulldozing into one at cairo university , it was over quickly. but at the other protest, they held fast. security forces fired on them with tear gas and then automatic weapons. egyptian security forces here are clearly using live a.m. nati -- ammunition. there are front line positions between protesters, security forces all over cairo. this one looks like it is about to get very ugly. a 37-year-old customs broker guided us through the streets, warning of government gunmen. already two journalists have been killed.

>> take cover, take the picture.

>> reporter: why, there are snipers trying to shoot?

>> yes.

>> reporter: the man says he came here because he believes his vote was stolen.

>> we're fighting for principle, for the president that was elected. it doesn't matter who.

>> get down. get down.

>> reporter: chaotic and grim at a hospital. impossible to know how many were injured let alone killed. this man was shot in the upper thigh with a live round. some of the injured are taken to ambulances and hospitals, others being treated on the ground. but there is more to this story. police uncovered ammunition hidden in coffins in a protest camp and video from an egyptian newspaper shows demonstrators on and firing. protesters pushed an armored vehicle off a bridge. five soldiers were inside. today may be just the beginning. islamic extremists who back the muslim brotherhood tacked churches and government buildings nationwide. egypt 's military-backed government a close u.s. ally today chose to try to crush the muslim brotherhood . it's aunclear if the iron fist will work. egypt 's prime minister tonight defended the crackdown saying that no self-respecting nation could accept a state of anarchy.

>> richard there's been sharp reaction from the u.s. john kerry made an appearance today to condemn the violence.

>> today's events are deplorable and they run counter to egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion, and genuine democracy.

>> despite the strong words, the obama added minu e ed ministration continues to walk a thin line, not calling the overthrow of president morsi a coup, also sending millions of dollars in aid most in the form of military hardware, tanks and fighter planes. richard , let me turn back to you and ask why the u.s. might be so hesitant to take a stronger stand against egypt 's rulers.

>> reporter: the american policy authority in egypt is extremely confusing. you saw secretary kerry a short time ago criticizing the egyptian government , the egyptian coup government that took over, but a few weeks ago he was saying that it wasn't a coup, that this was an act to defend democracy. i think the united states wants to have it both ways with egypt . it wants to support the democratic process but also wants to maintain stability and alike it or not and like what you saw in this country today or certainly not, the egyptian military is considered one of the tent poles of stability across north africa and especially important for the country right across the border, namely israel.

>> richard engel in cairo tonight,