CAIRO (AP) — Clashes between police and Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi left seven protesters dead, authorities said Tuesday, the worst outbreak of violence in a week as the Islamist leader's supporters maintain pressure on the military and the interim administration to offer major concessions.
The overnight riots broke out hours after the most senior U.S. official to visit Egypt since Morsi was toppled two weeks ago concluded a round of talks with the country's interim leaders in which he called for the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the political process. It also took place as talks on the formation of an interim government entered their final stages.
Underlining the relatively liberal outlook of the new, post-Morsi government, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has nominated five women for Cabinet posts, including the health, information and environment portfolios. If confirmed, that would be the highest number of women to serve in ministerial posts in living memory.
The violence has overshadowed the political process, but negotiations were underway and the Cabinet was expected to be sworn in by Wednesday.
The military-backed interim president, Adly Mansour, has issued a fast-track timetable for the transition. His declaration set out a seven-month timetable for elections but also a truncated, temporary constitution laying out the division of powers.
The accelerated process was meant, in part, to reassure the U.S. and other Western allies that Egypt is on a path toward democratic leadership. But it has faced opposition from the very groups that led the four days of mass protests that prompted the military to remove Morsi.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has seen its fortunes rise and fall amid the turmoil that ensued after the 2011 revolution that removed autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, also is refusing to join the political process.
The Brotherhood, sensing a perceived shift in Washington's policy, issued a scathingly anti-U.S. statement on Tuesday, claiming that President Barack Obama had given the military the green light to stage a coup.
"It is the American hypocrisy, treachery, adaptability and crude interference in Egypt's affairs ... It is an essentially American coup that would not have taken place without its (America's) consent," it said.
Morsi had maintained good relations with the United States during his year in office. The ousted leader was lavishly commended for brokering a truce between Israel and Gaza's Hamas ruler late last year after days of fighting. Morsi has also maintained Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, a cornerstone of Washington's Middle East policy
The bloodshed — which came a week after army troops and police killed more than 50 Morsi supporters — erupted after sunset during mass protests by Morsi supporters demanding the ousted leader be reinstated. The protest turned violent as police fired volleys of tear gas at the protesters, who burned tires, threw rocks and blocked traffic flow on a main roadway running through the heart of the capital.
The Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which Morsi hails, said police used birdshot and live ammunition.
Khaled el-Khateeb, the head of the Health Ministry's emergency and intensive care department, said seven people were killed and 261 were injured in the clashes that broke out late Monday and continued through early Tuesday in four different locations in Cairo.
Egypt's state news agency said 17 policemen were injured and 401 people have been arrested in relation to the clashes.
Security officials said four protesters were killed in clashes between Morsi supporters at a sit-in near the main Cairo University campus and residents of the area. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The ousted president's supporters reject what they call a military coup that overthrew the nation's first democratically elected leader.
The army stepped in to remove Morsi after days of mass protests calling for the Islamist leader's removal on the grounds that he had failed to solve any of the country's pressing problems, including tenuous security and an ailing economy. His opponents also accused him of concentrating too much power in his own hands.
Morsi and the Brotherhood insist that Mubarak loyalists worked incessantly to undermine Morsi's rule and that a wave of protests and strikes hampered badly needed reforms.
In the wake of the coup, the new military-backed administration has moved swiftly against the Brotherhood, detaining several senior leaders over accusations that included inciting violence and killing protesters. Authorities have issued arrest warrants for the group's leader, Mohammed Badie, and at least 13 other prominent Islamists.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met Mansour and Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Monday before he addressed reporters. He said Washington was committed to helping Egypt succeed in its "second chance" at democracy, a comment that signaled that Washington, while calling for an inclusive transition that would include the Brotherhood and other Islamists.
Burns insisted that the United States is not taking sides in deeply polarized Egypt, saying it is not Washington's policy, "as outsiders, to support particular political personalities and particular parties."
"What we're going to continue to try to do is to support an open inclusive, tolerant democratic process," he said. "We hope it will be a chance to learn some of the lessons and correct some of the mistakes of the last two years."