Egypt: John Kerry calls for leaders to ‘pull back from the brink’

US watching anxiously as Egypt simmers after killing of dozens of supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi

The United States has urged Egypt to pull “back from the brink” after security forces killed dozens of supporters of the deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

US secretary of state John Kerry spoke to two senior members of Egypt’s army-installed interim cabinet, expressing his “deep concern”.

“This is a pivotal moment for Egypt,” he said in a statement. “The United States … calls on all of Egypt’s leaders across the political spectrum to act immediately to help their country take a step back from the brink.”

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters were hunkered down in a vigil at a Cairo mosque on Sunday, vowing to stand their ground despite the imminent threat of a move to disperse them.

Saturday’s bloodshed, following huge rival rallies, left an unknown number of people dead.

Egypt’s health ministry put the toll at 65. The Brotherhood said another 61 were on life support after what it described as a ferocious dawn assault by men in helmets and black police fatigues. The ambulance service said 72 people had died.

Bodies wrapped in white sheets were laid on the floor of a Brotherhood morgue, their names scrawled on the shrouds.

Washington, treading a fine line with an important Middle East ally and recipient of over $1bn in military aid, urged the Egyptian security forces to respect the right to peaceful protest.

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by telephone with Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the 3 July military overthrow of Morsi.

Denying police culpability for Saturday’s deaths, interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim said the vigil outside the Rabaa al-Adawia mosque in northern Cairo would “God willing, soon be dealt with”.

A public prosecutor is reviewing complaints from local residents unhappy with the huge encampment on their doorstep.

Ibrahim said angry residents had clashed with Brotherhood protesters in the early hours of Saturday, and police intervened with teargas.

Brotherhood activists said they would not be cowed and warned of worse bloodshed if the security forces did not back down. Thousands were packed into the area as night fell.

“We will stay here until we die, one by one,” said Ahmed Ali, 24, as he helped treat casualties at a makeshift field hospital on Saturday.

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said they would remain until their demands were met and Egypt’s first freely elected president reinstated. He accused Sisi of issuing a “clear, pre-determined order to kill”.

The European Union condemned Saturday’s bloodshed, the second mass killing since Morsi’s overthrow. On 8 July, more than 50 Brotherhood supporters died when security forces opened fire on them outside a Cairo barracks.

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