At least 74 supporters of Egypt’s ousted Islamist president have been shot dead during clashes with security forces, officials say, as rival rallies were staged for and against Mohamed Morsi.
In the heaviest bloodshed since Morsi’s July 3 overthrow, Ahmad Aref, spokesman of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, on Saturday said 66 people died in the violence and another 61 were left “clinically dead”.
The health ministry gave a death toll of 65 in Cairo and another nine in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria since Friday.
An AFP correspondent earlier counted 37 bodies in an Islamist-run field hospital at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, and the emergency services said other hospitals received an additional 29 corpses.
In the wake of the Muslim weekend bloodshed, Egypt’s interior ministry insisted security forces had not used live fire, and blamed the clashes on Islamists.
Interior minister Mohammed Ibrahim, for his part, warned that pro-Morsi demonstrations, which his supporters have vowed to keep up until he is reinstated, would “soon” be dispersed.
The death toll prompted international consternation and condemnation from a key Egyptian cleric as well as Mohamed ElBaradei, a former opposition leader now serving as vice president in a transitional government.
The latest violence erupted at dawn on Saturday outside the mosque, where Morsi supporters have been camped since the week before the military ousted him.
State media and the interior ministry said police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters on the airport road, but witnesses told AFP that security forces fired live bullets.
By midday, medical workers began ferrying bodies wrapped in white shrouds to hospitals, carrying them on blood-soaked stretchers past a furious throng of Morsi loyalists.
Rival protests were likewise held on Friday in Egypt’s second city Alexandria, where the ministry said nine people were killed.
The Cairo violence was the deadliest since 53 Morsi supporters were killed outside the Republican Guard headquarters in the capital on July 8.
It prompted condemnation from Ahmed al-Tayeb, the sheikh of Egypt’s key Muslim institution, Al-Azhar.
He called for an “urgent judicial investigation” and punishment of those responsible, “regardless of their affiliation.”
ElBaradei, who joined the transitional government that took over after Morsi’s ouster, condemned what he termed the “excessive use of force.”
On Friday, authorities remanded Morsi in custody for 15 days, accusing him of the “premeditated murder of some prisoners, officers and soldiers” when he broke out of prison during the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, MENA said.
He also stands accused of conspiring to “storm prisons and destroy them … allowing prisoners to escape, including himself”.
The military has so far kept Morsi’s whereabouts secret to avoid attracting protests by his supporters.