Nasser Shiyoukhi, AP
CAIRO — Egyptian soldiers and police clashed with Islamists protesting the military's ouster of the president in bloodshed that left at least 51 protesters and three members of the security forces dead, officials and witnesses said, and plunged the divided country deeper into crisis with calls by the Muslim Brotherhood's political party for all-out rebellion against the army.
The carnage outside the Republican Guard building in Cairo — where toppled President Mohammed Morsi was first held last week — marked the single biggest death toll since massive protests forced Morsi's government from power and brought in an interim civilian administration.
Even before all the bodies were counted, there were conflicting accounts on how the violence began. Morsi's backers said the troops attacked their encampment without provocation just after dawn prayers. The military said it came under a heavy assault first by gunmen who killed an army officer and two policemen. More than 400 were wounded in the mayhem.
The violence is almost certain to draw sharper battle lines between Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, who say the military has carried out a coup against democracy, and their opponents, who claim Morsi squandered his 2012 election victory and was wrecking democracy by bolstering his and the Brotherhood's grip on the state.
Egypt's top Muslim cleric warned of "civil war" and said he was going into seclusion as a show of protest to both sides until the violence ends.
Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Al-Azhar Mosque, said he had "no choice" but to seclude himself at home "until everyone shoulders his responsibility to stop the bloodshed instead of dragging the country into civil war."
Soon after the attack, the Al-Nour party, an ultraconservative Islamist party that had been talking to the new government about participating in the political process, announced it was withdrawing its support for the transition plan in response to the "massacre."
The military, which removed Morsi on Wednesday after mass protests against him, now may face pressures to impose stricter security measures to try to keep unrest from spilling out of control. It will also have to produce compelling evidence to support its version of events or otherwise suffer what is already shaping to be a Brotherhood media blitz to portray the military as a brutal institution with little regard for human life or democratic values.
The escalating chaos will also further complicate Egypt's relations with Washington and other Western allies, which had supported Morsi as the country's first freely elected leader and now are reassessing policies toward the military-backed group that forced him out.
In a move that is likely to further inflame the situation, the Freedom and Justice party, the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, called on Egyptians to rise up against the army. Morsi has been a longtime leader of the Brotherhood.
The party also called on the international community to stop what it called the massacres in Egypt and accused the military of pushing Egypt toward civil war, warning the country was in danger of becoming a "new Syria."
"The only thing the military understands is force and they are trying to force people into submission," said Marwan Mosaad, speaking at a field hospital run by Morsi's supporters. "It is a struggle of wills and no one can predict anything."
Pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei also condemned the violence and called for an investigation, writing on Twitter that "peaceful transition the only way."
The morning's violence left at least 51 protesters dead and 435 wounded, most from live ammunition and birdshot, emergency services chief Mohammed Sultan, according to the state news agency. Two policemen and one soldier were also killed, according to the military.
The Morsi supporters had been camped out for days at the site in tents around a mosque near the Republican Guard complex, where Morsi was initially held but was later moved to an undisclosed Defense Ministry facility.
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