Chaos and frustration at morgue for families of Egypt's dead

CAIRO Thu Aug 15, 2013 1:34pm EDT

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Hundreds of Egyptians pushed and shoved each other in the blistering heat at Cairo's main morgue on Thursday. All they wanted to do was get official permission to bury their dead.

But chaos reigned a day after security forces killed hundreds of people in a crackdown on supporters of deposed President Mohamed Mursi, filling the morgue and the street outside.

Dozens of bodies in blankets, white sheets and newspapers formed a queue of death stretching several hundred meters down the derelict cul-de-sac in front of Zaynhom morgue.

They were killed in raids with bulldozers, teargas and bullets. The official death toll has climbed well over 500.

People beside corpses outside the building complained there was no sign of the officials needed to inspect their loved ones and sign them over for burial. Under Islamic tradition, bodies ought to be buried within 24 hours of death.

"This is my brother," said Sayyed Tareq, 35, pointing at a body wrapped in blood-soaked blankets and covered in melting blocks of ice in an attempt to keep it from decaying.

"He had a bullet in his head. He was killed by snipers at Rabaa (al-Adawiya camp)."

Many of the families had ferried the bodies of loved ones from the camps to the morgue themselves.

Elsewhere in the city, dozens of charred and mutilated corpses still lay in shrouds in a mosque serving as a makeshift morgue, suggesting the death toll may yet rise as, typically, Health Ministry casualty tolls include only bodies that have passed through hospitals.

"We arrived at 7 a.m. The whole family is here," said Atif Hashim, a 50-year-old teacher, who wants to bury his cousin, a father of five young children.

"They just drink tea inside, they just throw the bodies on the floor with some ice," he said of officials in the morgue.

OPEN COFFIN

Men banged their fists against the metal door of the morgue in frustration. The facility was far too crowded for them to get inside.

Some climbed up walls covered in graffiti reading "martyrs" and "Sisi is a killer", referring to Egypt's army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew Mursi on July 3 following mass protests against his rule.

"It's very difficult to enter. This is the only place in all of Egypt for the documents," said Mohamed Salah, standing next to an open coffin holding his brother, who he said was shot in the back of his head in Cairo on Wednesday.

"Yesterday we came here and they turned us away because there were too many people here, so we took the body back to the hospital and came back this morning."

Others suggested the state tried to cover up the violence.

Ehab Abdel Hadi, standing next to a body of a relative in the line, said hospital staff had asked him to sign a report describing the cause of death as suicide. But he refused.

"Where is the Health Ministry? Where is the government? There is no organization here," he said, swaying and sweating profusely in the sun.

Other families were also deeply suspicious of the state.

They say morgue reports sometimes contradict hospital documents which spell out the cause of death.

"The reports from the morgue say choking from teargas or suicide and the families have to sign because otherwise they can't get the body to bury it," said Khalid Ali Maaoud, 29, as a body was carried past on an advertising board.

Health Ministry officials declined to comment on the allegations.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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