Thousands of Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi rallied across Egypt for a “Day of Rage” on Friday leading to clashes with security forces that left more than 100 dead and raised the prospect of yet more violence.
The rallies were the first show of strength by Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood since security forces stormed two pro-Morsi protest camps on Wednesday, killing hundreds and unleashing a wave of violence by enraged mobs who attacked churches and clashed with police throughout the country.
They also provided the strongest sign yet that neither Islamists nor the military-backed authorities were prepared to back down and that the Arab world’s most populous country was descending further into chaos just two years after the overthrow of strongman Hosni Mubarak.
Islamists in Egypt called for a week of rallies to denounce the government’s deadly crackdown on protesters seeking the reinstatement of Mr Morsi.
“The coalition reiterates its demand of reinstating legitimacy,” the National Coalition for Legitimacy, an Islamist group made up of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, said in a statement. “Bloodshed will water the tree of freedom.”
The army-backed authorities appointed after the July 3 coup which overthrew Mr Morsi accused the Brotherhood of a “terrorist plot” against the country. Police were ordered by the military-backed interim government to use live ammunition to defend government buildings.
The Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated groups, meanwhile, continued to issue calls for resistance. “The struggle to overthrow this illegitimate regime is an obligation, an Islamic, national, moral, and human obligation which we will not steer away from until justice and freedom prevail, and until repression is conquered,” said a statement from the Anti-Coup Alliance, a coalition of Islamist groups dominated by the Brotherhood.
Gehad Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman said on Twitter that Friday’s protests marked the beginning of “a week of departure”, with rallies to continue daily in locations around the country “until we break the coup”.
In a sign of just how closely leaders in the Middle East were watching events in Egypt, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah declared his support for what he called the authorities’ war against ‘terrorism’ and warned other countries not to interfere.
Apparently referring to US interventions, he said: “Those who are meddling in the Egyptian affairs should know that they are fuelling sedition and support the terrorism they claim to fight.” On Thursday, the US had cancelled joint exercises with Egypt’s military but stopped short of suspending aid to Cairo.
In Cairo alone at least 50 people were killed and more than a hundred wounded in Friday’s clashes, most of them in Ramses Square, a transport hub in the centre of the Egyptian capital. Among those reported killed was a son of Mohamed Badie, its top leader, who died of a bullet wound in Ramses square, the Muslim Brotherhood said.
The interior ministry said 1000 Brotherhood supporters were arrested.
As army helicopters hovered above, the dead and injured were taken to a makeshift hospital set up by the Islamists in Al Fath mosque near the square. By nightfall a huge fire raged in one of the buildings in Ramses square, the offices of a construction company.
At least 25 people were reported killed in violence elsewhere around the country. Flashpoints included Alexandria, Port Said, Fayoum, Damietta and Suez.
Western leaders, meanwhile, continued to appeal for calm and political dialogue to bring an end to the violence.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron and François Hollande, the French president, discussed the situation by phone and agreed “the immediate priority must be the end of violence and repression, respect for human rights by all and the resumption of dialogue among Egyptians,” the Elysée Palace said in a statement.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said her government would review its relations with Egypt in light of the violence and her development minister said he had frozen a €25m environmental aid programme.
Ms Merkel’s office said she had also spoken with Mr Hollande and both leaders agreed the EU as whole should also review its relations with Cairo. EU foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday to discuss the events in Egypt.
Additional reporting by Michael Steen in Frankfurt
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