U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed “deep concern” on Saturday over the “bloodshed and violence” in Egypt that has killed and injured scores, saying the country faced a “pivotal moment,” Al Arabiya reported.
Kerry, in a statement following calls with Egyptian and European officials, also urged an “independent and impartial inquiry” into the events of the past 24 hours and urged all of the Egypt’s leaders to act to “help their country take a step back from the brink.”
At least 65 people were killed during clashes in Cairo early Saturday, Egypt’s Health Ministry said, after violence erupted at a demonstration in support of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
The ministry said nine others died in violence in Egypt’s second city Alexandria, putting the toll in two days of unrest at 74. The Muslim Brotherhood, however, claimed that the death toll was much higher and that about 120 people were killed in what the movement described as a “massacre” in “an attempt to complete the coup.”
“This is a pivotal moment for Egypt,” Kerry said, according to Al Arabiya.
“Over two years ago, a revolution began. Its final verdict is not yet decided, but it will be forever impacted by what happens right now,” he said.
Kerry also said that, at a time of extreme volatility, Egyptian authorities have “a moral and legal obligation to respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”
“Violence not only further sets back the process of reconciliation and democratization in Egypt, but it will negatively impact regional stability,” he said.
“At this critical juncture, it is essential that the security forces and the interim government respect the right of peaceful protest, including the ongoing sit-in demonstrations,” he added, noting he conveyed his concern in telephone calls to Interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, Interim Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed deep concern over violence in Egypt and urged restraint in a call on Saturday with the Egyptian army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“The United States believes that the current transition needs to be marked by inclusivity, that Egyptian authorities should avoid politicized arrests and detentions, and take steps to prevent further bloodshed and loss of life,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement quoted by Al Arabiya.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned on Saturday the violence in Egypt, calling on security forces to respect the right to free speech and assembly and urging protesters to demonstrate peacefully.
“The Secretary-General once again calls on the interim authorities to assume full responsibility for the peaceful management of the demonstrations and ensure the protection of all Egyptians,” Ban’s press office said in a statement.
“The secretary-general reiterates that Mr. Mohammed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood leaders currently in detention should immediately be released or have their cases reviewed in full transparency,” added the statement.
Last week, the Obama administration told lawmakers that it does not plan on defining the overthrow of Egypt’s government as a coup. This will allow the United States to continue providing $1.5 billion in annual military and economic aid to Egypt.
The announcement came just a day after Washington delayed delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. It was the first U.S. action since the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
A U.S. law requires denying assistance to a country “whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup d’etat.” The White House, however, has been cautious about calling the Egyptian military’s ouster of Morsi a “coup,” noting that it will need to “review what has taken place.”