Egyptian PM Defends Crackdown as Death Toll Rises - More than 525 Dead

Egypt's interim government and its backers remain defiant amid a rising death toll and widespread international condemnation of Wednesday's massacre of Islamist supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi – the country's third mass killing in six weeks.

The prime minister, Hazem Beblawi, said the crackdown was essential to create stability, and praised security forces for what he characterised as maximum restraint – despite Egypt's health ministry on Thursday saying 525 had died in the violence that ensued when pro-Morsi camps on either side of Cairo were cleared.

"Egypt cannot move forward, especially economically, in the absence of security," Beblawi said in a televised statement. In 2011 Beblawi resigned from a previous government after a massacre of Coptic Christians.

The interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, said the protesters had "threatened national security, incited violence and tortured and killed people". Protesters at both camps had been largely peaceful.

The vice-president, Mohamed ElBaradei, appointed last month in an attempt to give the new military regime a respectable face, resigned inprotest at Wednesday's events.

But in an indication that public sentiment remains strongly behind the military, even the liberal coalition he once led, the National Salvation Front, distanced itself from his decision and saluted the police's actions. A television host later called for ElBaradei to be placed under house arrest.

Dissenting voices were few and far between. But Egypt's Revolutionary Socialists, active during the 2011 uprising against the Mubarak regime, said the day's events were counter-revolutionary; "part of a plan to liquidate the Egyptian revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime".

The first night of a dusk-till-dawn curfew – enacted under Mubarak-era laws – achieved mixed results. The usually bustling streets of central Cairo were largely empty on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Military roadblocks restricted access between parts of the city.

Elsewhere Islamists vowed to defy the curfew, and there were reports of clashes outside the finance ministry and other parts of Cairo. Fighting spread to several provinces.

On Wednesday, several Christian churches were reported to have been attacked. Christians, who make up 10% of Egypt's population, are blamed by some Islamists for Morsi's downfall.

The United States has led a chorus of international concern about the crackdown, publicly condemning the violence that resulted in the worst loss of life on a single day since the overthrow of Morsi.

The White House said "the world is watching", but there was still no sign that the US was prepared to characterise Morsi's removal by the army as a coup – which would trigger an automatic congressional ban on $1.3bn (£834m) in annual aid to the Egyptian military.

Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, said he was "deeply concerned" at the escalating violence and unrest. "I am disappointed that compromise has not been possible. I condemn the use of force in clearing protests and call on the security forces to act with restraint," he said.

Lady Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, who met Morsi in his place of detention this month, said in a statement: "Confrontation and violence is not the way forward to resolve key political issues. I deplore the loss of lives, injuries and destruction in Cairo and other places in Egypt."

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, condemned the violence and urged an effort at "inclusive reconciliation". France and Germany also called for dialogue.

The strongest language came from Turkey, whose government has been a firm supporter of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. It urged the Arab League to act quickly to stop a "massacre" and the prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, called for the UN security council to meet.

Iran warned of the risk of civil war. Rachid Ghannouchi, president of Tunisia's governing moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, called the crackdown an "abject crime". He expressed solidarity with the pro-Morsi backers' efforts to "recover their freedom and oppose the coup d'etat".

At least 51 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed on 8 July in a raid on a pro-Morsi sit-in and at least 65 at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosquethree weeks later.

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