CAIRO — Violent new protests erupted across Egypt on Thursday following the military’s bloodiest crackdown on supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. The death toll since Wednesday surpassed 600.
The military was defiant in the face of world condemnation and calls for restraint, including an angry response by President Obama and threats to suspend European economic aid. The Interior Ministry warned protesters that police officers were authorized to use lethal force to protect themselves. The ministry also promised to punish any terrorist actions and sabotage after at least two government buildings were burned early Thursday.
“The ministry has given instructions to all forces to use live ammunition in the face of any attacks on establishments or forces within the framework of the regulations of using the legitimate right of self-defense,” the ministry said in a statement. “All the forces assigned to securing and protecting these establishments were provided with the weapons and the ammunition necessary to deter any attack that may target them.”
In response, Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters exhorted followers to take to the streets, defying the newly imposed state of emergency.
The scorched-earth assault by security forces Wednesday, which razed two protest camps in Cairo set up by Morsi’s supporters, was far more ferocious and extensive than the gradual pressure promised by the interim government that replaced him.
It was easily the most violent of the three deadly suppressions that have roiled Egypt since Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, was forcibly removed from power by the armed forces six weeks ago, plunging the country into its worst crisis since the ouster of Morsi’s authoritarian predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, in the 2011 revolution.
Hundreds of Morsi’s supporters marched through Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, clashing with the police. In Giza, across the Nile from Cairo, Islamists attacked provincial headquarters with Molotov cocktails and set it on fire. Islamists also blocked the main highway encircling Cairo.
In his first response to the mass killings, Obama strongly condemned the Egyptian government’s use of brute force and said the United States had canceled military exercises with Egypt’s armed forces scheduled for next month.
In Europe, some officials called for a suspension of aid by the European Union, and at least one member state, Denmark, cut off funds. France’s president summoned the Egyptian ambassador to condemn the violence.
A number of prominent international companies, including General Motors of the United States, suspended operations in Egypt. In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ally of Morsi’s, called for an early meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss what he labeled a massacre.
Mohamad Fathallah, the spokesman for Egypt’s Health Ministry, told the official Al Ahram website that, as of late Thursday, the casualties from the Wednesday violence totaled 638 dead and 3,994 injured.
He said the biggest concentration of killings, numbering 202, had been in the larger of the two protest camps, in Cairo’s Nasr City district, with 87 recorded in the smaller Nahda Square camp near Cairo University. A further 29 deaths were reported from the Helwan area on the outskirts of Cairo, with 207 deaths reported from other areas around the country.
Adly Mansour, the figurehead president appointed by General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, declared a state of emergency Wednesday, returning Egypt to the state of virtual martial law that prevailed for three decades under Mubarak. The government imposed a 7 p.m. curfew in most of the country, closed the banks, and shut down all north-south train service. It modified the curfew Thursday to 9 p.m.
On Thursday morning, authorities continued to tamp down fires and clean up debris from razed protest camps, as many of the city’s residents got their first look at the extent of death and damage.
Many people complained that authorities were preventing them from obtaining permits to bury their dead, although the Muslim Brotherhood announced that several funerals had been held Thursday.
‘‘Bodies are getting decomposed,’’ said Hamdan Abdullah, who had traveled from the city of Fayoum to retrieve the body of his niece. “We only want to bury them. This is unfair.’’
At one landmark mosque, the names of the dead were scribbled on white sheets covering the bodies, some of them charred, and a list with 265 names was plastered on a wall. Heat made the stench from the corpses almost unbearable, as the ice brought in to chill the bodies melted and household fans offered little relief.
Weeping relatives filled the mosque’s courtyard and spilled into the streets. In a corner, a woman cradled the head of a slain man in her lap, fanning it with a paper fan. Nearby, an anguished man shouted, ‘‘God take revenge on you el-Sissi!’’ a reference to the powerful military chief.
Slumped over the body of his brother, Ihab el-Sayyed said the 24-year-old was getting ready for his wedding next week.
‘‘Last time I heard his voice was an hour or two before I heard of his death,’’ Sayyed said.
Over the mosque speakers, a voice urged people to leave because their body heat was making the humid conditions worse inside the mosque, where posters of Morsi lay piled up in a corner.Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.