CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s interim president held talks Saturday with the army chief and interior minister following an outburst of violence between supporters and opponents of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi that killed at least 36 people across the country and deepened the battle lines in the divided nation.
Three days after the military pushed out Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, the country appears to be careening toward further conflict and turmoil. Morsi’s supporters have vowed to take to the streets until the toppled Islamist leader is reinstated, while his opponents have called for more mass rallies to defend what they call the “gains of June 30,” a reference to the start of massive protests to call for the ouster of the president.
With both sides digging in, the country’s acting president, Adly Mansour, met Saturday with army chief and Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as well as Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police, at the Ittihadiya presidential palace.
It was the first time Mansour, a previously little known senior judge, has worked out of the president’s main offices since he was sworn-in Thursday as the country’s interim leader, a day after the military shunted Morsi aside after four days of the street protests that brought millions out into the streets.
Mansour also met Saturday with leaders of Tamrod, or Rebel, the youth movement that organized the mass anti-Morsi demonstrations, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Mansour was recently appointed by Morsi as chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, and was only sworn in as the chief justice minutes before he took the oath of office as president.
He took the helm of a fiercely divided country.
Enraged by Morsi’s overthrow, tens of thousands of the ousted president’s supporters poured into the streets Friday, holding rallies that they have vowed to continue until the former leader is returned to office.
Late Friday, violence erupted in central Cairo as the rival camps clashed on a bridge over the Nile River. Gunfire crackled in the streets and flames leaped from a burning car. The chaotic scenes ended only after the army rushed in with armored vehicles to separate the warring groups.
The clashes had accelerated after the supreme leader of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, defiantly proclaimed his followers would not give up street action until the toppled president’s return to office.
“God make Morsi victorious and bring him back to the palace,” Brotherhood chief Mohammed Badie proclaimed Friday before cheering supporters at a Cairo mosque in his first appearance since the overthrow. “We are his soldiers we defend him with our lives.”
Badie said it was a matter of honor for the military to abide by its pledge of loyalty to the president, in what appeared to be an attempt to pull it away from its leadership.
Hours later, his deputy, Khairat el-Shater, considered the most powerful figure in the organization, was arrested in a Cairo apartment along with his brother on allegations of inciting violence, Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif told The Associated Press.
Across the country, clashes erupted as Morsi supporters tried to storm local government buildings or military facilities, battling police or Morsi opponents. Mohammed Sultan, deputy head of the national ambulance service, said at least 36 people were killed in Friday’s clashes, the highest death toll in one day since the protests began last Sunday. Another 1,076 were injured.
In his first public appearance since he was sworn in, Mansour was photographed at the Muslim Friday prayers, which he performed at a mosque near his house in a suburb west of Cairo.
“I want everyone to pray for me. Your prayers are what I need from you,” he told worshippers who approached him to shake his hand and wish him well, according to the independent daily el-Tahrir.
The paper said the president spoke to its reporter in a brief interview after the prayer. The president’s office could not be immediately reached to confirm the comments.
“We all need national reconciliation and we will work to realize it,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “Egypt is for everyone.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.