CAIRO – Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi announced new demonstrations on Sunday as the country grew increasingly polarized and the death toll in four days of violence topped 750.
The fresh protests come after a violent standoff between Islamists and security forces at a mosque in central Cairo on Saturday, that briefly turned the area into a battleground.
Security forces traded fire with gunmen inside the Al-Fath mosque before eventually dragging protesters outside, where angry mobs awaited them, chanting “terrorists.”
The interior ministry said 385 people inside the mosque had been arrested, and the government gave new death toll figures that brought the number of dead in four days to 751.
Despite the violence, the Anti-Coup Alliance of Morsi supporters said they would hold several rallies in Cairo and elsewhere.
The announcement suggested there was no end in sight to the street confrontations that have gripped Egypt since Morsi’s ouster.
There was renewed speculation that the government would move to ban Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, although the military-installed interim presidency appeared to dismiss the idea.
“We’re not into the effort of dissolving anyone or preventing anyone” from taking part in politics, presidential adviser Mustafa Hegazy insisted on Saturday.
According to an AFP tally, more than 1,000 people have been killed since mass demonstrations against Morsi at the end of June.
He was deposed by the military on July 3 in what his supporters call a coup, but his opponents deem a popular uprising like the one that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The ouster, and the subsequent bloodshed has drawn mounting international criticism.
On Saturday night, Germany and Qatar jointly condemned the “brutal violence” and United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon urged “maximum restraint.”
Their criticism came as security forces surrounded the Al-Fath mosque in Cairo’s Ramses Square where Islamists were sheltering.
They had entered the mosque a day earlier, turning it into a makeshift mortuary for dozens of protesters killed on Thursday.
At first, security forces tried to persuade the protesters to leave, but by Saturday afternoon, the situation turned violent.
Police traded fire with gunmen inside the mosque, leaving bullet holes in its minaret.
Eventually, they dragged Islamists from the mosque, firing in the air to keep at bay angry civilians armed with sticks and iron bars who tried to beat the protesters.
On Saturday afternoon, the government said 173 people had been killed in 24 hours, in addition to 578 killed on Wednesday, when police cleared two pro-Morsi protest camps.
Among those killed on Friday was a son of Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s supreme guide.
The interior ministry said it had arrested 1,004 Brotherhood “elements” during the unrest, and on Saturday security sources said the brother of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri had been detained.
Security sources also said one soldier was killed in northern Sinai where militants have launched daily attacks against security forces.
The interim government has defended the crackdown, with presidential adviser Hegazy saying the security forces had acted with “a huge amount of self-restraint and self-control”.
But international criticism mounted, with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle saying he and his Qatari counterpart were “deeply distressed by the ongoing and brutal violence in Egypt.”
Westerwelle urged the two sides to resume dialogue, citing a “danger of civil war.”
Late Saturday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague called his Egyptian counterpart to express London’s “condemnation of all acts of violence, whether disproportionate use of force by the security forces or violent actions by some demonstrators.”
Attacks on mosques and churches were “unacceptable,” Hague stressed. Islamists have torched churches of the country’s Coptic minority, whom they accuse of backing Morsi’s ouster.
UN chief Ban urged an end to violent protests and condemned “excessive use of force” in handling them.
“He strongly condemns attacks on churches, hospitals, and other public facilities, which he finds unacceptable,” his spokesman said.
Elsewhere, thousands marched in Turkey against Morsi’s ouster, and the Vatican said Pope Francis was following events with “mounting concern.”
The pontiff was praying for the rival sides to “choose the path of dialogue and reconciliation,” the Vatican said.
The United States has announced the cancellation of its biannual military exercise with Egypt, but stopped short of suspending $1.3 billion in annual aid.
The US embassy in Cairo said it would stay shut on Sunday, a working day in Egypt, citing the possibility of fresh demonstrations nearby.
But the international response has not been uniformly critical. Saudi Arabia and Jordan said they backed Egypt in its fight against “terrorism”.