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Freedom and Justice Party Calls for Uprising After Carnage at Cairo Barracks

July 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: We return again to Egypt, where the country saw its deadliest day of violence since the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi just last week. More than 50 people were killed in one incident in Cairo.

The shooting began just before dawn. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters were camped outside an army barracks where former President Mohammed Morsi has reportedly been held since the military ousted him last week. It was a peaceful sit-in, until this morning, and then gunfire erupted as people awoke for morning prayers.

MOHAMED MAGDY, Egypt: I woke up after the prayer and I heard shots. Then the firing started from the presidential guard side.

GWEN IFILL: A wounded soldier said protesters fired the first shots.

MOHAMED IBRAHEEM, Soldier: We were there to ensure the safety of the people. When we were there, they started firing at us and throwing Molotov cocktails and bricks.

GWEN IFILL: Whoever shot first, the dead, the dying and the wounded were carried away from the chaos, and doctors at a makeshift field hospital were quickly overrun with casualties.

DR. MOHAMED ZANATY, Egypt: There are direct shots with live ammunition in the chest, head, in the neck, abdomen, diaphragm. All are killing shots.

GWEN IFILL: There were conflicting versions of how the carnage unfolded. A military spokesman said terrorists attempted to attack the barracks. He showed video of a few protesters with what appear to be handguns.

AHMED ALY, Spokesman, Egyptian Armed Forces: The scene stopped being a peaceful demonstration this morning at 4:00 a.m. A group of armed men attacked the area surrounding the Republican Guards building and the armed forces and police personnel responsible for guarding the area using live fire and bullets.

GWEN IFILL: But Gehad El-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, insisted it was a cold-blooded assault by those in uniform.

GEHAD EL-HADDAD, Spokesman, Muslim Brotherhood: This was a premeditated attack by both the military and the police force. The protesters there were peaceful. They were praying. They had their heads bowed to the ground. They had their backs trustingly to the military. And the military fired on them.

GWEN IFILL: There were also reports of an attack on police in Port Said. The nation’s top cleric, who runs Al-Azhar, an ancient center of Islamic learning in Cairo, declared the country risked civil war. And the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, called openly for an uprising against the military.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney denounced the call to arms and appealed instead for restraint. He was asked repeatedly whether the U.S. will label the removal of Morsi a coup. That would force a halt in American aid to Egypt’s military, about $1.5 billion dollars a year.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Spokesman: I think it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the United States to immediately change our assistance programs to Egypt.

GWEN IFILL: Back in Cairo, Egypt’s caretaker president ordered an investigation into today’s killings. That call was echoed by Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who appeared set over the weekend to be offered the prime minister’s job. But Egypt’s second-largest Islamist faction, the hard-line Al-Nour party, objected.

Al-Nour had backed the army’s plan for elections, but after today’s violence in Cairo, it suspended its support. As dusk gathered late today, tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters flocked to a square near the site of the killings in protest and for funeral prayers.