Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi announced new demonstrations yesterday as the country grew increasingly polarized and the death toll in four days of violence topped 750.
A day earlier, police stormed a Cairo mosque where Morsi loyalists had holed up, after trading fire with gunmen inside its minaret.
The call for fresh demonstrations looked set to test the so-called Anti-Coup Alliance of Morsi loyalists, which failed to hold mass rallies on Saturday, but has insisted that protests will continue.
The group announced two major rallies in east and south Cairo following afternoon prayers at 2pm.
Ahead of the rallies, some semblance of normality returned to the streets of the capital, which is under a night-time curfew and has been unusually quiet in recent days.
Traffic was almost at normal levels and banks and shops opened their doors cautiously after four days of violence since Wednesday, when police cleared two pro-Morsi protest camps.
At least 578 people died across the country in clashes following the operation, and the government said another 173 people were killed between Friday and Saturday, bringing the toll in just four days to more than 750.
The violence has shocked the international community, but Egypt’s government — installed by the army after Morsi’s July 3 ouster — has fiercely defended its actions.
Egypt has found itself divided as never before in recent history, with Morsi’s opponents condemning his supporters as “terrorists.”
On Saturday, as police dragged protesters from the Fath mosque in Cairo, angry bystanders tried to assault them, cheering as they were packed into police cars.
Violence has also continued in the Sinai Peninsula, where militants carried out attacks overnight in the northern city of El-Arish, killing a civilian, two soldiers and a policeman, security sources said.
The interim government has defended the crackdown.
“We had to take measures to confront terror against the people,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said.
However, international criticism has mounted, with EU leaders saying yesterday that they would review ties with Egypt’s government and army if the violence continues.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged an end to violent protests and condemned “excessive use of force” in handling them.
The Vatican said Pope Francis was following events with “mounting concern.”
The US embassy in Cairo stayed closed yesterday, a working day in Egypt, citing the possibility of fresh demonstrations nearby.
However, the international response has not been uniformly critical. Saudi Arabia and Jordan said they backed Egypt in its fight against “terrorism.”