CAIRO -- More than 50 supporters of Egypt's ousted president were killed by security forces yesterday in one of the deadliest single episodes of violence in more than 2 1/2 years of turmoil. The toppled leader's Muslim Brotherhood called for an uprising, accusing troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed armed Islamists for provoking its forces.
The early-morning carnage at a sit-in by Islamists outside the Republican Guard headquarters, where ousted President Mohammed Morsi was first held last week, further entrenched the battle lines between Morsi's supporters and his opponents. The uproar weakened the political coalition that backed the military's removal of the country's first freely elected leader.
Egypt's top Muslim cleric, the sheik of Al-Azhar, warned of civil war and took the unusual step of announcing he would seclude himself in his home until the two sides "stop the bloodshed."
The sole Islamist faction that backed Morsi's removal, the ultraconservative Al-Nour Party, suspended its participation in talks on forming a new leadership for the country. The group is now torn by pressure from many in its base, furious over what they saw as a "massacre" against Islamists.
The military and the Brotherhood appeared determined not to back down in the confrontation. The Brotherhood accuses the military of carrying out a coup against democracy, while their opponents say Morsi squandered his 2012 election mandate and was leading the country into a Brotherhood monopoly on power.
Adly Mansour, the military-backed interim president, announced a fast-track timetable that would lead to elections for a new parliament within about seven months.
The swift issuing of the timetable reflected a drive to push ahead with a post-Morsi political plan despite Islamist rejection, and is likely to further outrage within the Brotherhood.
The Freedom and Justice party, the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, called on Egyptians to rise up against the army, which it accused of turning Egypt into "a new Syria."
Both sides presented their versions of what happened at the protest site, where about 1,000 Morsi supporters had been camped out for days in the streets around a mosque near the Republican Guard headquarters. After the violence began around dawn, the two sides battled it out for around three hours.
Protesters and the Brotherhood said it began when troops descended on them and opened fire unprovoked as they finished dawn prayers.
By the end, at least 51 protesters were killed and 435 wounded, most from live ammunition and birdshot, said emergency services chief Mohammed Sultan, according to the state news agency.