CAIRO - The leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, told a protest rally on Friday that he was ready to reach an understanding with the armed forces - but only after the movement's Mohamed Morsi was reinstated as president.

As a military helicopter hovered low over the crowd, Badie called on the army not to fire on its own people and said that demonstrations were stronger than tanks.

"Our bear chests are stronger than bullets," he said.

He had earlier called for mass rallies to continue until the Brotherhood could carry Morsi "on our shoulders". The ousted president has been in military custody since his overthrow on Wednesday.

As darkness fell, thousands of pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators gathered in parts of Cairo. Soldiers and special forces backed by armored personnel carriers attempted to keep small groups from the two factions apart.

Prior to Badie's speech, at least three demonstrators were shot dead Friday outside the Republican Guard barracks in Cairo where Morsi is being held, security sources said.

The sources said security forces had opened fire, however a spokesman for the army said troops had only fired blank rounds and teargas. A Reuters journalist saw demonstrators hit by shotgun pellets. It was not clear whether security forces other than the army were present.

Thousands of Morsi supporters demonstrated in cities across the country on what his Muslim Brotherhood called a "Friday of rage" against what they describe as a military coup that toppled Egypt's first elected leader a year after he took office.

In Cairo, hundreds of supporters of Morsi had marched towards the suburban compound where he is being held and gathered outside. A Reuters journalist heard shotgun fire and saw at least eight people among the protesters who had been wounded.

He had seen hundreds of demonstrators approach the military cordon. A handful of men walked to a barbed wire barrier and place a poster of Morsi on it. A soldier removed it and tore it up.

The crowd shouted curses at the soldiers, some waved shoes in a traditional gesture of insult.

The Reuters journalist saw troops fire in the air. He then heard shotgun fire and at least eight demonstrators hit. Tear gas rounds burst, dispersing the crowd.

An hour later, hundreds of demonstrators were still nearby, some praying. Some waved posters of Morsi, who was ousted by the armed forces on Wednesday after mass protests against him.

One man held up hands stained red and said: "This is the blood of those who died."

Soldiers were still in place behind barbed wire. Military helicopters periodically flew overhead.

The Muslim Brotherhood called on its website for more of its supporters to congregate there.

Thousands of Islamists also took to the streets of Alexandria and Assiut to protest against the army's ouster of Morsi and reject a planned interim government backed by their liberal opponents.

In the Suez city of Ismailia, soldiers fired into the air as Morsi supporters tried to break into the governor's office. The Islamists retreated and there were no casualties, security sources said.

Egypt's liberal coalition issued an "urgent call" for its supporters to take to the streets in response to Islamist protests, raising the risk of clashes between the rival groups.

In Damanhour, capital of the Beheira province in the Nile Delta, 21 people were wounded in violence between the factions.

Ehab el-Ghoneimy, manager of the Damanhour general hospital said three people had been wounded with live bullets, others were wounded with birdshot, rocks, or had been hit with rods.

Hoda Ghaneya, a leading female figure in the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) political arm, said she and two of her sons accompanying her at a Cairo rally after Friday prayers were ready to sacrifice themselves to the cause.

"We will die not as a sacrifice for Morsi, but so the Egyptian people recover their freedom," she told Reuters near the Rabaa Adaweya mosque in a Cairo suburb that has been the center of Islamist protests in the last few days.

Dozens of people were wounded in clashes in Morsi's Nile Delta home city on Thursday, raising fears of more of the violence in which several dozen have died in the past month.

A military source said: "We will continue to secure the places of protest with troops, and jets if necessary, to make sure the pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators don't confront each other. We will let them demonstrate and go where they want."

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