By Ben Brumfield. Hamdi Alkhshali and Ben Wedeman, Cairo (CNN): Any use of force to end mass protests staged by supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy will only result in more death, the country’s interim interior minister said Saturday.
The warning from Minister Mohamed Ibrahim came as dozens were reported killed overnight in clashes between Morsy’s supporters and those opposed to his rule, an escalation of violence that has raised concerns among Western leaders about the stability of a key ally in the region.
Tensions between the sides were likely to be further inflamed after Ibrahim told reporters in a televised news conference that Morsy — who has not been seen publicly since he was forced from office — would likely be moved to the same prison where ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak is being held.
The final decision, according to Ibrahim, will be made by an investigative judge. Morsy has been ordered jailed by a judge for 15 days on allegations, predating his election, that he had collaborated with Hamas, according to state media.
It is unlikely the protesters will end their demonstrations without resistance — with leaders of the movement refusing to recognize the interim government or cooperate with it — despite Ibrahim’s pledge that the rallies will be brought to an end soon.
Since the Egyptian military pushed Morsy from office on July 3, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, have staged mass rallies and sit-ins across the country. In Cairo and elsewhere, rival rallies have drawn hundreds of thousands with sometimes deadly results.
“We have complete coordination between the police and the armed forces to end the protests at the proper time,” Ibrahim said. “… But we are waiting for the prosecutor’s office to issue orders so can we have the legal cover for it.”
There were conflicting casualty tolls Saturday from clashes between Morsy’s supporters and Egyptian security forces that ensued when protesters attempted to block a major bridge in the Cairo neighborhood of Nasr City — considered a Morsy stronghold.
The Ministry of Health reported 38 people were killed and more than 500 injured, while the state-run Middle East News Agency, citing medical workers at a field hospital, said 75 people were dead and more than 1,000 injured.
Conflicting casualty counts are common in the chaotic aftermath of violence, and Egypt’s Ministry of Health did not return CNN’s repeated calls for comment.
The European Union’s foreign minister condemned the killings as well as bellicose language by officials.
“There is no room for hate-speech and other forms of incitement,” according to a statement released Saturday morning by Catherine Ashton’s office.
Those opposed to Morsy took to the streets Friday and into the early morning hours Saturday to celebrate the military that had pushed him from office.
Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the military, called for mass demonstrations to support him and the military in ending what he has called “terrorism.” The Brotherhood condemned his statements as “inciting violence and hatred.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, which Morsy formerly led, accused police Friday and Saturday of firing on demonstrators with live ammunition.
A police spokesman rejected the claim Saturday, saying police fired only tear gas canisters and were not responsible for the deaths.
Ibrahim also said his forces did not fire on protesters.
“I want to emphasize here that the Interior Ministry police force has never and will never fire its weapons at any Egyptian citizen,” he said.
But a wounded protester getting medical treatment at a field hospital said he saw men in plain clothes fire on pro-Morsy demonstrators with shotguns.
He referred to them as “thugs,” a term commonly used for young men, who support the government and resort to violence.
“Police forces were standing behind them. Also, military forces were outside blocking three entrances to Rabaa Adawiya neighborhood,” Mohammed Sultan said. He also reported seeing corpses with gunshot wounds at the hospital.
Five people were killed Friday and 72 injured in the port city of Alexandria, MENA reported, citing security officials.
As tear gas wafted through the air in Cairo, witnesses reported that some clashes with security forces occurred near the 6th of October bridge over the Nile River, joining the opposing protesters.
A different scene played out nearby in Tahrir Square, which was the hub of the popular movement that led to the 2011 military ouster of Mubarak.
Repeatedly, fireworks lit up the night sky. Those gathered below, opposed to Morsy, cheered military helicopters that flew by, dropping leaflets and Egyptian flags.
Morsy, and how he’d steered Egypt’s government, was foremost on the minds of people on both sides of the fight.
Morsy a victim of Egypt’s revolution of the mind
Prosecutor: Morsy collaborated with Hamas
The former Muslim Brotherhood leader became Egypt’s first democratically president in June 2012, but found himself at odds with the opposition before the military removed him from power and detained him this month.
Nineteen members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Morsy, are accused of breaking out of jail after Egypt’s 2011 revolution, state media reported.
The prosecutors, who ordered a probe two weeks ago, said the escape was plotted by “foreign elements” including Hamas, its military wing, the Islamic Palestinian Army and Hezbollah. The Muslim Brotherhood was named as a domestic group that cooperated with those who broke them out of prison.
Morsy is accused of escaping, destroying the prison’s official records and intentionally killing and abducting police officers and prisoners.
Local media reports at the time stated that Morsy was in prison for a single day. Critics of the Mubarak regime have said that the jailbreak was organized by the Mubarak regime in an attempt to sow chaos during the uprising against him.
According to the Al-Masri Al-Youm newspaper, Morsy was among 500 members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were arrested after planning to join anti-Mubarak demonstrations. Allegedly, there were no formal charges against them.
The military has not commented on Morsy’s whereabouts. When he was first detained, a Brotherhood spokesman told CNN that he was initially under house arrest at the presidential Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo and later was moved to the defense ministry.
CNN’s Ben Wedeman reported from Cairo, and Ben Brumfield and Hamdi Alkhshali reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.
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