CAIRO: The death toll from weekend clashes between supporters of Egypt’s ousted president and security forces backed by armed civilians in Cairo has risen to 72, the deadliest single outbreak of violence since the army deposed the Islamist Mohammed Morsi in a July 3 coup, a health ministry official said on Sunday.
Khaled el-Khateeb, head of the ministry’s emergency and intensive care department, said another eight died in clashes in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
A total of 792 people were wounded in both incidents, which spanned Friday and early Saturday.
The Cairo violence took place when pro-Morsi protesters sought to expand their sit-in camp by moving onto a nearby main boulevard, only to be confronted by police and armed civilians.
Authorities concede that the vast majority of the dead in Cairo were demonstrators, but the Interior Ministry says some policemen were wounded and it is not clear if civilians who sided with police were among the dead.
The extent of the bloodshed pointed to a rapidly building confrontation between the country’s two camps, sharply divided over the coup that removed Egypt’s first freely elected president following protests by millions of Egyptians demanding he step down.
Authorities talk more boldly of making a move to end weeks of protests by Morsi’s Islamist supporters. At the same time, the Islamists are growing more assertive in challenging security forces as they try to win public backing for their cause.
Officials from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and their allies decried what they called a new “massacre” against their side, only weeks after July 8 clashes with army troops in Cairo that left more than 50 Morsi supporters dead.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that he spoke to Egyptian authorities, saying it is “essential” they respect the right to peaceful protest. He called on all sides to enter a “meaningful political dialogue” to “help their country take a step back from the brink.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also asked security forces to “act with full respect for human rights” and demonstrators to “exercise restraint.”