Overnight clashes in Cairo between security forces and supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi left seven people dead, health officials said Tuesday, as Egypt’s interim leadership called for national reconciliation.
The clashes in the heart of Cairo and in adjacent Giza, in which hundreds of people were also wounded, were the first to rock the Egyptian capital since dozens of Morsi supporters were shot dead outside an elite army barracks early last week.
The unrest came just hours after Under Secretary of State Bill Burns — the most senior US official to visit since the army toppled the elected Islamist president on July 3 — appealed for an end to the violence rocking the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Two people died in clashes around the central Ramses area near Tahrir Square, while another five were killed in Giza, emergency services chief Mohammed Sultan told AFP.
Health ministry official Khaled al-Khatib said 261 people were also wounded, while a security source cited by state media said 401 protesters were arrested in the Ramses area alone.
At least 17 security personnel were injured, seven of them by birdshot, the source said.
Thousands of Islamists had poured onto the streets after the iftar meal, with which Muslims break their daytime fast during the holy month of Ramadan, to demand the reinstatement of Morsi, who has been in custody since his overthrow.
Some of them blocked the October 6 bridge over the Nile in central Cairo, where security forces fired tear gas to drive them back.
The protesters responded by hurling rocks at the security forces, triggering fresh volleys of tear gas, with clashes continuing in adjacent Ramses Square and elsewhere late into the night.
Egypt has been rocked by a wave of deadly attacks since the coup, with the latest deaths brings to more than 100 the number of people killed, according to an AFP tally of confirmed deaths.
Presidential spokesman Ahmed al-Muslimani urged all of Egypt’s political forces, including Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, to take part in national reconciliation efforts.
His comments echoed calls by the US envoy a day earlier for dialogue to replace the violence.
“The first priority must be to end violence and incitement, prevent retribution, and begin a serious and substantive dialogue among all sides and all political parties,” Burns said after meeting the general behind the coup, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and the military-backed interim leaders.
He also urged the military to avoid “politically motivated arrests” amid growing international unease at the crackdown on the Brotherhood.
The Islamist movement has refused to play any part in the interim government, which caretaker premier Hazem al-Beblawi has pledged to unveil as early as Tuesday.
A US State Department spokeswoman confirmed Burns had not met any Brotherhood officials during his two-day visit.
The US envoy was also snubbed by the grassroots Tamarod movement which organised the mass protests against Morsi that led up to the coup, “because the United States did not stand with the Egyptian people from the beginning,” an official from the group told AFP.
Burns declined to comment on Morsi’s continued detention.
Washington has refrained from saying Morsi was the victim of a coup, which would legally require a freeze on some $1.5 billion in US military and economic assistance to Cairo.
Several leading Republican lawmakers have called for US aid to be cut because of the army’s removal of Morsi.
During his single year of turbulent rule, Morsi was accused of concentrating power in Brotherhood hands, sending the economy into freefall and failing to protect minorities.
But the Islamist leader’s supporters say his overthrow was an affront to democracy.
Cairo voiced “strong resentment” on Tuesday at comments by Turkey’s Islamist premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan backing Morsi as Egypt’s only legitimate president.
Foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty expressed “strong resentment at comments like these, which… represent a clear intervention in internal Egyptian affairs”.
The diplomatic spat came as the authorities tighten the screws on Morsi’s backers, freezing the assets of 14 top Islamists, including nine Brotherhood leaders.
On Tuesday, Israel gave Egypt the go-ahead to deploy two infantry battalions to tackle Islamist militants in the restive Sinai peninsula, where troop deployments are restricted by treaty, Israeli army radio reported.
The Egyptian army is preparing to go on the offensive against the militants who have escalated attacks since Morsi’s overthrow.