CAIRO — Egyptian soldiers and police clashed with Islamists protesting the military's ouster of the president in bloodshed that left at least 51 protesters and three members of the security forces dead, officials and witnesses said, and plunged the divided country deeper into crisis with calls by the Muslim Brotherhood's political party for all-out rebellion against the army.
The carnage outside the Republican Guard building in Cairo — where toppled President Mohammed Morsi was first held last week — marked the single biggest death toll since massive protests forced Morsi's government from power and brought in an interim civilian administration.
Even before all the bodies were counted, there were conflicting accounts on how the violence began. Morsi's backers said the troops attacked their encampment without provocation just after dawn prayers. The military said it came under a heavy assault first by gunmen who killed an army officer and two policemen. More than 400 were wounded in the mayhem.
The violence is almost certain to draw sharper battle lines between Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, who say the military has carried out a coup against democracy, and their opponents, who claim Morsi squandered his 2012 election victory and was wrecking democracy by bolstering his and the Brotherhood's grip on the state.
Egypt's top Muslim cleric warned of "civil war" and said he was going into seclusion as a show of protest to both sides until the violence ends.
Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Al-Azhar Mosque, said he had "no choice" but to seclude himself at home "until everyone shoulders his responsibility to stop the bloodshed instead of dragging the country into civil war."
Soon after the attack, the Al-Nour party, an ultraconservative Islamist party that had been talking to the new government about participating in the political process, announced it was withdrawing its support for the transition plan in response to the "massacre."