Egypt's Army To Use Live Ammunition To Keep Order

Egypt's Interior Ministry has authorized the use of deadly force against protesters targeting police and state institutions. The death toll has surpassed 600 since Wednesday and spread outside the bloody crackdown in Cairo against supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. Egypt is on edge and possibly on the verge of more bloodshed, with the Muslim Brotherhood organizing a day of anger across the country. In a moment we'll hear from a spokesperson for the Brotherhood, which is the party of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

Today's fresh protests come two days after more than 600 people were killed when security forces stormed two camps of Morsi supporters; both sides are ramping up the threats today. And we'll begin our coverage with NPR's Peter Kenyon, who is in Cairo. Peter, good morning.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: What is the latest there? What's the mood?

KENYON: Well, a lot of anger and determination on both sides. The government says live fire is permitted by security forces today in order to protect government property or to defend themselves. And we've already seen the results of Wednesday's use of firearms in what was supposed to be a gradual, incremental effort to clear these pro-Morsi camps. And now the Muslim Brotherhood is calling for more than a dozen separate marches today here in Cairo and more demonstrations around the country.

So while folks are still expecting Wednesday's death toll to rise, we're now faced with a situation that could add to the body count.

GREENE: And just to be clear, the government - what is their message about these protests? Are they saying that people can gather peacefully or is the mere fact that there'll be groups gathering in defiance of the government?

KENYON: We are under a state of emergency. So far there has not been a ban on peaceful protest, but that could evolve. We are, of course, under a curfew - 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. The main focus at the moment seems to be protecting government buildings, some of which have been burned in the recent unrest.

GREENE: Peter, in the wake of the violence Wednesday, it sounds like there have been some gruesome scenes in Cairo, including mosques that have actually been turned into makeshift morgues.

KENYON: Well, yes. They had to move many of the bodies from the largest pro-Morsi camp to the Iman Mosque not far away. More than 200 bodies were lined up inside that mosque. The morgue, meanwhile, seemed to be completely overwhelmed and was not processing the bodies fast enough. You need to get permission to bury, and a death certificate.

Which led some people to charge that the authorities were somehow trying to minimize the death toll. We can't verify those claims but last night security forces did move into the Iman Mosque and television footage showed bodies being removed. This could be for public health reasons. It is August. Bodies are decomposing quickly.

But for Muslim families trying to do a swift burial in compliance with their religion, it's adding insult to injury.

GREENE: We've gotten some reaction from around the world, Peter. President Obama and others, the U.N. Security Council, calling for calm. What are Egyptians saying about the international response so far?

KENYON: Well, people here are not impressed by calls for maximum restraint to be exercised accompanied by no apparent action. President Obama's decision to cancel military exercises with Egypt doesn't mean much to ordinary Egyptians, neither those mourning their dead and the loss of their democratically elected president, nor those who supported the military and want to start the revolution over again, hopefully on a more democratic track.

International leaders say that's what they want, is a return to democracy in Egypt. But people here are simply not seeing any moves to make it happen.

GREENE: A lot of anger in the Brotherhood, despite that the Brotherhood is saying that their events today are going to be peaceful. But I wonder, can Brotherhood leaders actually maintain that? Guarantee that? I mean can they control everyone and make sure no one turns to violence?

KENYON: Well, that is by far the biggest question of the unfolding crisis we've got here. We've already heard some debate about whether the Brotherhood can be coaxed back into the political process. But the more critical question in the short-term is whether at least some factions within the Brotherhood or their supporters and may now decide that fighting back is the best and only response.

Today's marches could be peaceful, but the sit-in also started peacefully. And we just have to see how this plays out and if it does become ongoing violent clashes that will lead to more military crackdowns and a general downward spiral for the Arab world's most populous state.

GREENE: We've been talking to NPR's Peter Kenyon in Cairo. Peter, thanks a lot.

KENYON: You're welcome, David.

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