CAIRO — Tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the streets Friday in several Cairo neighborhoods and other towns across Egypt in defiance of a military-imposed state of emergency following the country's bloodshed earlier this week.
The protesters poured out of mosques after traditional mid-day prayers, responding to the Muslim Brotherhood's call for a "Day of Rage" as armored military vehicles sealed off main squares in the Egyptian capital and troops with machineguns stood at the ready on key junctions.
Thousands marched on one of the bridges across the Nile River in Cairo, chanting in support of the Brotherhood and against the military coup.
The protests swelled, ignited by the outrage over the deaths of 638 people on Wednesday, when riot police backed by armored vehicles, snipers and bulldozers smashed two sit-ins in Cairo where ousted President Mohammed Morsi's supporters had been camped out for six weeks to demand his reinstatement.
The assault triggered running battles and deadly clashes between security forces and Morsi-s supporters elsewhere in Egypt, prompting the Interior Ministry to authorize the use of deadly force against anyone targeting police and state institutions.
Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, has been sharply polarized since the military removed Morsi from power on July 3, following days of mass protests against him and his Brotherhood group.
But Morsi's supporters have remained defiant, demanding the coup be overturned. The international community has urged both sides in Egypt to show restraint and end the turmoil engulfing the nation.
More than 40 policemen were also killed on Wednesday and dozens of churches were attacked as violence swept several provinces. Many of Morsi's supporters have voiced criticism at Egypt's Christian minority for largely supporting the military's decision to oust him from office.
The Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement Friday that the group is not backing down and "will continue to mobilize people to take to the streets without resorting to violence and without vandalism."
"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," the statement said.
Separately, the Brotherhood's supreme guide Mohammed Badie, wanted by police for allegedly inciting violence, warned in a statement Friday that removing Morsi was an attempt for the military to take over and establish a "dictatorship".
The revolutionary and liberal groups that helped topple Morsi have largely stayed away from street rallying in recent weeks.
Many Egyptians, while voicing concern over the scale of the police attacks this week, are supportive of the government's decision to the clear out of the Brotherhood-led sit-ins and protests, which blocked two main intersections in the capital and clogged traffic.