Cairo • Security forces clashed with supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi early Saturday, killing at least 38 protesters, the Health Ministry said, in an outburst of violence that put the possibility of political reconciliation in the deeply divided nation ever further out of reach.
In chaotic scenes, pools of blood stained the floor and bodies were lined up under white sheets in a makeshift hospital near the site of the battles in eastern Cairo as doctors struggled to cope with the flood of dozens of wounded.
The extent of the carnage underlined the willingness of police to unleash deadly firepower against any expansion of Islamist-led protests demanding the reinstatement of Morsi. Military-backed authorities are feeling emboldened after millions turned out for nationwide rallies Friday called by the army chief in support of a tough hand against what he called "terrorism."
The bloodshed also pointed to the Islamists' readiness to challenge the security forces as Morsi's supporters try to win over public support for their cause.
The fighting, which began before dawn and stretched out over several hours, was one of the deadliest bouts of violence since the military ousted Morsi on July 3 in the wake of massive protests demanding his removal.
The clashes began after a crowd of Morsi supporters late Friday moved out of their main sit-in camp where they have been located for nearly three weeks, in front of the Rabaah al-Adawiyah Mosque.
Some of them installed themselves on a nearby major boulevard, blocking traffic. They began to set up tents there, planning to stay there at least three days. Others went up on a nearby highway overpass.
Police moved in and fired tear gas to break up the crowds at around 2 a.m., and protesters responded with volleys of stones in battles near a memorial to former President Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981.
Gunshots also rang out, seemingly from both sides, said one witness, Mosa'ab Elshamy, a freelance photographer, though he could not tell who started firing.
The violence is certain to only further deepen the divides over the military coup that ended Morsi's one year in office.