CAIRO — Egyptian authorities rounded up more than 1,000 Islamists and began considering legally dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood as the party defiantly called for a week of nationwide protests starting on Saturday. Among those arrested was the brother of al-Qaida head Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The move came after Friday's death toll in protests added another 173 people killed to the more than 600 slain earlier in the week. More than 1,300 have been wounded in clashes around the country with almost half of the injured from central Cairo violence alone.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Bablawi proposed Saturday the legal dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood and the idea is being studied by the government, a spokesman for the government said. The proposal was made to Egypt's ministry of social affairs, which licenses non-governmental organizations, spokesman Sherif Shawky said.
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Shortly after, Egyptian police exchanged gunfire with supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi who were holed up inside a Cairo mosque that has been a center of the protests, an Agence France Presse correspondent reported. The reporter said gunmen inside the mosque were trading fire with police outside.
The correspondent said police stormed the Fath mosque and security forces fired tear gas. In the process, they managed to drag outside seven or eight men and were then confronted by angry neighborhood residents who attacked them with sticks and iron bars. Police fired in the air in a bid to disperse the mob.
The clashes push Egypt ever closer to anarchy. The Brotherhood announced a series of daily rallies over the next six days, starting on Saturday.
The interior ministry said more than 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood "elements" had been arrested, accusing members of Morsi's movement of committing acts of terrorism during the clashes.
Among those arrested was Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of al-Qaida head Ayman al-Zawahri, a security source told Agence France Presse. The brother was arrested in his home district of Giza, adjacent to the capital, the source said.
The Brotherhood, which ruled Egypt for a year until the army removed Morsi on July 3, urged its supporters back onto the streets to denounce the military takeover and the subsequent crackdown on followers of the nation's first freely-elected president.
"Our rejection of the coup regime has become an Islamic, national and ethical obligation that we can never abandon," said the Brotherhood, which has accused the military of plotting the downfall of Morsi last month to regain the levers of power.
Many Western allies have denounced the killings, including the United States, but Saudi Arabia threw its weight behind the army-backed government on Friday, accusing its old foe the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to destabilize Egypt.
Violence erupted across Egypt after the Brotherhood, which has deep roots in the provinces, called for a "Day of Rage." Automatic gunfire echoed around the capital throughout Friday afternoon, army helicopters swooped over the roof tops and at least one office block was set ablaze, lighting up the night sky long after the violence had subsided.
"We will not leave the squares. And we will not be silent over our rights, ever," said Cairo resident Abdullah Abdul Fattah, adding that he was not a Brotherhood voter.
"We are here because of our brothers who died," he said.
Among the dead was a son of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, who was killed in Cairo in Friday's violence. Ammar Badie, 38, died after being shot during a protest in Ramses Square, the Muslim Brotherhood said on its Facebook page. The whereabouts of Mohamed Badie, who is the Islamist movement's General Guide and facing official charges for inciting violence, are unknown.
An interim cabinet, installed by the army after it removed Morsi during rallies against his often chaotic rule, has refused to back down. It has authorized police to use live ammunition to defend themselves and state installations.
After weeks of futile, political mediation, police moved on Wednesday to clear two Brotherhood protest sit-ins in Cairo. Almost 600 people, most of them Islamists, were killed in the mayhem. With no compromise in sight, the most populous Arab nation — which is often seen as leading events in the entire region — looks increasingly polarized and angry.
"Egypt fighting terrorism," said a new logo plastered on state television, reflecting tougher language in the local media that was once reserved for militant groups such as al- Qaida.
The government said in a statement it was confronting the "Muslim Brotherhood's terrorist plan."
Undermining Brotherhood pledges of peaceful resistance, armed men were seen firing from the ranks of pro-Morsi supporters in Cairo on Friday. A security official said at least 24 policemen had died over the past 24 hours, and 15 police stations attacked.
The Brotherhood suggested the gunmen had been planted by the security forces, saying it remained committed to non-violence.
Witnesses also said Morsi backers had ransacked a Catholic church and set fire to an Anglican church in the city of Malawi. The Brotherhood, which has been accused of inciting anti-Christian sentiment, denies targeting churches.
Christians make up roughly 10 percent of Egypt's 84-million population and the Coptic Church authority issued a statement on Friday saying it "strongly supports the Egyptian police and armed forces."
The streets of Cairo fell quiet after nightfall, with the government warning the dusk-to-dawn curfew would be vigorously enforced. Neighborhood watch schemes sprouted up, and residents stopped and searched cars driving past their communities.
Egypt has lurched from one crisis to another since the downfall of the autocratic Hosni Mubarak in 2011, dealing repeated blows to the economy, particularly tourism.
Mubarak faces trial on charges of complicity in the deaths of protesters in 2011, but the chaos sweeping the country even postponed court proceedings in his case Saturday. The adjournment meant that Mubarak's next court date will coincide with the beginning of another trial of Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Meanwhile, the world community continues to respond to the unrest.
The European Union asked its states to consider "appropriate measures" to take in reaction to the violence, while Germany said it was reconsidering its ties.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recalled his ambassador to Cairo on Friday and called for Egypt's ousted president Mohammed Morsi to be reinstated. Maduro accused the United States and Israel of being behind Morsi's ouster as well as revolts in other countries such as Syria.
The Venezuelan government has maintained close relations with Middle Eastern countries, particularly Iran. It was also a close partner of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi who was killed in a popular revolt in 2011.
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