Egyptian army stands guard near Morsi supporters370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
CAIRO - The United States urged Arab ally Egypt to pull "back from the brink" after security forces killed dozens of supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and opened a dangerous new phase in the army's confrontation with his Muslim Brotherhood.
Thousands of Brotherhood supporters were hunkered down in a vigil at a
Cairo mosque on Sunday, vowing to stand their ground despite the
imminent threat of a move to disperse them.
following huge rival rallies, plunged the Arab world's most populous
country deeper into turmoil following two turbulent years of transition
to democracy with the fall of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Health Ministry said 65 people had died. The Brotherhood said another
61 were on life support after what it described as a ferocious dawn
assault by men in helmets and black police fatigues. The ambulance
service put the death toll at 72.
Bodies wrapped in white sheets were laid on the floor of a Brotherhood morgue, their names scrawled on the shrouds.
Washington, treading a fine line with an important Middle East ally and recipient of over $1 billion in military aid
, urged the Egyptian security forces to respect the right to peaceful protest.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by telephone with Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the July 3 military overthrow of Morsi and whose face has appeared on posters across the teeming capital, Cairo.
US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to two senior members of Egypt's army-installed interim cabinet, expressing his "deep concern."
"This is a pivotal moment for Egypt," he said in a statement. "The United States ... calls on all of Egypt's leaders across the political spectrum to act immediately to help their country take a step back from the brink."
Saturday's violence, and the threat of more, has deepened alarm in the West over events in the country of 84 million people, a vital bridge between the Middle East and North Africa.
Over 200 people have died in violence since Sisi deposed Morsi on the back of huge popular protests against his rule, ending a one-year experiment in government by the Muslim Brotherhood after decades spent in the shadows under successive Egyptian strongmen.