CAIRO — Escalating the confrontation after clashes that left at least 83 supporters of Egypt's ousted Islamist president dead, the interim government moved Sunday toward dismantling two pro-Mohammed Morsi sit-in camps, accusing protesters of "terrorism" and vowing to deal with them decisively.
The nation's highest security body — the National Defense Council — issued a statement saying the camps in Cairo violated Egypt's national security. It also urged the protesters to renounce violence and stop "terrorism and verbal and physical assaults on citizens."
The council, chaired by the interim president and including the prime minister, defense and foreign ministers, said it deeply regretted the loss of life, but did not blame any party for it.
Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood stood firm and denounced Saturday's bloodshed as evidence of the brutality of the military-backed government, which ousted the president on July 3.
During the monthlong sit-ins, the Brotherhood has claimed its supporters are killed in cold blood by army troops, police or thugs sponsored by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police. However, witnesses and videos posted on social networking sites show that Morsi's supporters consistently use rocks, firebombs and firearms against opponents, who behave similarly.
The Brotherhood's tactic is clearly designed to win sympathy at home and abroad by portraying itself as a victimized party pitted against an army and a police force armed to the teeth.
"We urge the United Nations, the international human community … to come down and rescue the hundreds of thousands from the massacre by the live ammunition in the hands of the criminals," senior Brotherhood leader Mohammed el-Beltagi shouted from the stage at the larger of the two Cairo sit-ins.
Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood's supreme leader, launched a stinging attack on the military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, over the security services' attack Saturday that killed at least 83 people and wounded hundreds more in Cairo, according to officials. Badie said the military chief was leading a "bloody regime" and urged his followers to stand fast.
"Don't be sad and don't despair," he said in a message that heavily quoted from the Koran, Islam's holy book. Posted on the Brotherhood's website, the message said those killed in the latest violence were martyrs who will be rewarded with a place in heaven.
The international community urged restraint. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a strongly worded statement telling Egyptian authorities it was "essential" they respect the right to peaceful protest and calling on all sides to enter a meaningful political dialogue.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon asked security forces to "act with full respect for human rights" and demonstrators to "exercise restraint."
Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, arrived in Cairo on Sunday for her second visit to Egypt this month, a sign of the alarm felt in the West over the continuing bloodshed. She was to meet Egyptian leaders today.
The violence continued Sunday, when deadly clashes during funerals for two of the slain Morsi supporters left two men dead and scores injured in two cities north of Cairo, Port Said and Kafr el-Zayat.
Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim warned security forces would deal decisively with any attempts to destabilize the country. Ibrahim accused the pro-Morsi side of provoking bloodshed to win sympathy and suggested authorities would move against the two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo.
"I assure the glorious people of Egypt that the police are determined and capable to maintain security and safety to their nation with the support of the sincere sons of the country," Ibrahim said during a graduation ceremony at the national police academy. "We will very strongly and decisively deal with anyone who attempts to undermine stability."
He depicted the two encampments as a danger to the public, pointing to nine bodies found nearby in recent days. "Soon we will deal with both sit-ins," he said.
Setting the stage for more confrontations, the military-installed interim president, Adly Masnour, gave the prime minister the power to grant the military the right to arrest civilians in what government officials suggested was a prelude to a major crackdown on Morsi's supporters or Islamic militants who have stepped up attacks against security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.
At least 20 members of the security forces have been killed in Sinai by suspected militants. Late Sunday, a member of the army's elite Saaqa commandos was killed in a mortar and rocket attack by suspected militants that wounded four others in northern Sinai.